Update on accessible housing standard

The 2022 edition of the National Construction Code (NCC) will include updated standards for all new housing. This standard is similar to the Livable Housing Silver Level that many local governments require for a percentage of apartments. Although the standard will be in the 2022 NCC, states and territories are responsible for ensuring implementation. This means it is not a done deal for all Australians – yet. There are still wrinkles to iron out.

Interior of a small apartment showing a dining table and a couch. Good light is coming in the windows. Accessible housing standard.

Small apartments are easier to make accessible because there are no corridors and hallways.

The preview of the 2022 edition of the NCC had an exemption for dwellings less than 55 square metres. It was originally thought that it would be difficult to apply the new housing standard to small dwellings such as studios. Once it was realised it was easier because there are no corridors or hallways, these dwellings are now included in the NCC.

Smaller dwellings are often required by people on low incomes who also have a disability or long term health condition. So it was really important to include small apartments in the standard. Of course there will still be some exemptions such as really steep sites. However, these are rarely the sites chosen by mass market developers and builders. Individual bespoke homes on cliff faces are not the target of the new standard.

New advisory committee

A new advisory committee to support implementation of the new standard has been set up by the Australian Building Codes Board. The committee will bring together representatives of user groups, advocates, design professionals, regulators and the construction industry. They will work through any emerging technical issues and help shape the information to help industry apply the standard. Their first meeting was in September.

A woman with long blonde hair is reaching across the meeting table to point to a piece of paper. Three other people look on.

Bringing a small group together, representing all the most interested groups, will help us develop workable consensus positions on any questions that arise.

Gary Rake, CEO Australian Building Codes Board.

For more, see the media release, Livable Housing Provisions in the National Construction Code 2022. This is a big reform. It offers a new level of inclusion in housing and will make Australian homes more suitable for all stages of life. However, there will still be a need for specialist housing for people with high level needs.

As of September 2022…

Victoria, Queensland, ACT and NT will adopt the silver standard in the NCC from May 2023 with a transition period until 1 October 2023. Tasmania will take another year with a transition period until October 2024. NSW and WA have not committed to the standard, but SA has agreed in principle and is now working on an implementation timeline.

The long road to Livable Housing

And the journey isn’t over yet. While the Livable Housing Standard is now in the national code, it is up to each state and territory to implement it. Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, ACT and Northern Territory have agreed to implementation. South Australia has come late to the party but is now working on an implementation strategy.

Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) has been leading the charge for the reforms for twenty years. They believe that Western Australia could also sign up to implement the standard eventually. However, NSW has flatly refused to entertain the idea.

The livable housing story of citizen advocacy is documented in a conference paper.

Given that the industry likes to have consistency across the board, this could pose additional difficulties. For more on the history of Australia’s quest for accessible housing see these posts:

New South Wales said ‘no’

New era in home design is good for business

Going for Gold but Silver will do for now

There are more posts in the Housing Design Policy section of this website.

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