Innovative Housing for People with Disability

For the past 20 years, the group home has been the dominant model, with people expected to live with five or more others. Group homes may work for some people with disability but are not for everyone. A range of housing options including options for people with disability to live with their partner and/or children is needed. We need to increase both the range and scale of housing options for people with disability in Australia.

In 2013, the Summer Foundation launched an example of the next generation of housing for people with more significant disability. This demonstration project has six apartments for people with high support needs peppered throughout a larger mixed private and social housing development. The Summer Foundation has purchased two apartments for young people in nursing homes. The other four accessible apartments are for Transport Accident Commission (TAC) clients.

The housing is centrally located and within 500 metres of a train station and shops, to maximise independence and inclusion and minimise transport costs and reliance on paid supports. Residents can use an iPad or smart phone to control lighting, heating, cooling, blinds, door bells and doors, as well as to contact support staff. This technology means they have greater independence and privacy, while still having access to 24-hour on-call support if they have an urgent need for unplanned support or an emergency.

The Summer Foundation is currently developing its second housing demonstration project in the Hunter NSW NDIS trial site. Ten apartments for people with disability are peppered throughout a development with over 100 units. An additional one bedroom apartment has been purchased as a hub for support staff.

Through the Abbotsford and Hunter Housing Demonstration projects the Summer Foundation aims to provide hard data regarding the cost-benefits of providing good quality housing that is well located and designed and incorporates smart home technology and on-call support. A proactive model of support that fosters independence is just as important as the design, location and technology incorporated within the apartments.

We anticipate that the Monash University led research on tenant outcomes will show improved quality of life, social inclusion, increased independence, decreased reliance on paid supports and a reduction in life time care costs. While the target group for the Summer Foundation housing demonstration projects is young people in nursing homes, this model is relevant to a much broader group of people with disability.

Our long-term vision is that models like the Abbotsford apartments will be routinely incorporated into all new medium and high-density housing developments across Australia. Australia desperately needs a long-term strategy to create more housing that is both accessible and affordable.

Rather than continuing to build segregated specialist housing, the housing needs of people with disability need to be incorporated into mainstream housing strategy. In an inclusive Australia, private housing would be designed so that people with disabilities could visit friends and family and all new social and public housing would be fully accessible inline with Livable Housing Design Australia targets.

Smart design of new housing will allow all of us to remain in our own homes for longer as we get older. Giving all people with disability greater access to mainstream housing will enable many people with severe disabilities to move to more independent living options and create vacancies in existing specialist disability housing.

There are two key barriers that need to be addressed to achieving this vision. We need to engage the people involved in funding, planning, designing and building private, social and public housing in Australia to increase the supply of accessible housing. We also need a range a strategies that bridge the gap between what people with a disability can afford to pay for housing and the cost of good quality housing that is well located and designed to maximise independence.

People with disability experience a number of significant financial and practical barriers to securing housing. The income levels for people living with disability are generally lower than community averages. People with disability also often incur additional day to day living expenses as a result of their disability. There are also additional costs when purchasing a home related to modifications. If the person with disability needs any significant modification it can effectively exclude them from the private rental market.

The NDIS is being introduced at a time of high levels of unmet need for affordable housing across Australia and lack of any comprehensive strategy at the national or state levels for increasing the supply of housing to respond to the needs of people on low incomes. Without the injection of significant government funding support to stimulate and subsidise the development of new housing options for people on low incomes (which includes many people with disability supported through the NDIS) the opportunities for people with disability to live in housing that is well located, affordable, secure and supports their connection with the community will remain very limited.

There has been ongoing anticipation that the NDIS may provide up to $700,000 million per annum funding for housing related costs for NDIS participants once the scheme is fully operational in 2019. This funding is for the ‘user cost of capital’, which is where a person needs an integrated housing and support model, and the cost of the accommodation component exceeds a reasonable contribution from individuals.

The ‘User cost of capital’ is the cost of using capital that is tied up in infrastructure, such as buildings. Some NDIS participants will incur a higher ‘user cost of capital’ due to their disability. These costs could relate to more expensive design that optimises independence, reinforced walls and ceilings, infrastructure related to smart home or communications technology, larger rooms for circulation space or additional space for support workers.

The availability of this ‘user cost of capital’ has the potential to provide much needed stimulus for new housing development for people with significant disabilities. However, given the delays in release of a discussion paper related to funding for housing for NDIS participants, its potential to stimulate new housing options for people with disability is still unclear.

The voluntary guidelines and national targets developed by Liveable Housing Australia were a noble attempt to increase the stock of accessible housing in Australia. However a recent report by Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) indicates that the voluntary code is falling well short of its targets and that regulation is required. ANUHD have recently commenced a campaign calling for minimum access features to be included in the Building Code of Australia for all new and extensively modified housing.

In 2008, Australia ratified the UN Convention on the rights of people with disability. These rights include the right of all people “to choose their residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others, and not be obliged to live in particular living arrangements”. Now it’s time for the federal government to provide the leadership required to turn this right into a reality.

The NDIS is a huge and exciting reform that has the potential to transform the lives of people with disability in Australia. However, the impact of the NDIS on the lives of people with disability in Australia will be limited by the dearth of accessible and affordable housing. Unless the whole community begins to act now, we may find that when the scheme is fully implemented, young people in nursing homes and tens of thousands of other people with disability will have funding for support – but no new housing options.