Accessible accommodation options in rural or remote areas

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For people with disability, living in accessible accommodation that supports their needs ensures they can remain socially engaged and in control. For many, it is also the key to keeping them from living in a residential aged care facility or hospital.

Key points

  • Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) is the main form of housing available to high-needs people with disability
  • In remote and regional areas, accessible housing is often limited or non-existent
  • Accessible housing standards will become part of the National Construction Code in 2023

Unfortunately, there are additional barriers when searching for housing in rural and remote Australia.

Limited supply and demand of accessible and affordable housing mean those who do need Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA), may not have the option.

Alternative options, including home modifications, may be the right solution to ensure you can continue living in your rural or remote community.

Why is rural accessible housing important?

Some people with disability who are unable to find the right support or housing have ended up living in residential aged care, even though a nursing home is not the appropriate place for a person under the age of 65.

According to the Younger People in Residential Aged Care (YPIRAC) Strategy 2020-25 Annual Report, 3,899 people under the age of 65 were living in residential aged care in June 2021.

That number was a 20 percent reduction over the previous year and the Federal Government aims to have no people under 65 living in residential aged care by 2025.

Accessible housing and accommodation is crucial for the support and benefit of people living with disability in a rural setting. Without it, there is a loss of social benefits, according to Tim Naughtin, Summer Foundation’s Head of Corporate Affairs.

“It’s not only aged care settings, [but also being] at home with their parents, in an unsuitable house or a hospital,” Mr Naughtin says.

“These are all unsuitable places for people to live and there are social costs for people living in aged care facilities, hospitals or unsuitable homes. Those social costs include loneliness, health and wellbeing, being unable to work or participate economically, and isolation.

“We also know that when people with disabilities live in homes that are not suitable for them, they require more personal supports from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), aged care or family members – often taking family members out of the workforce.”

Accessible housing in regional and remote areas, including SDA, ensures that people with disability can remain at home – or in a new home – that supports their needs and independence.

Many options are also cohabited, providing a safe space for people with disability to live with others who require the same or similar supports.

What accessible housing is available regionally?

Several types of accessible housing are available in regional areas, including:

  • NDIS Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA), including group homes
  • NDIS Non-SDA accessible housing
  • Public and community housing
  • Supported Independent Living (SIL) for private renters or home owners
  • Supported residential services (SRS)

Roughly 6 percent of NDIS participants are eligible for SDA funding, and these participants are those with extreme functional impairments or very high support requirements.

You can learn more about Specialist Disability Accommodation in our article ‘Understanding Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA)’.

The Summer Foundation, says there are roughly 3,000 vacant SDA properties in Australia, although the majority of them are concentrated in metropolitan areas.

“SDA provides housing for people with some of the most significant impairments. It’s a small number of people but it’s a very important NDIS policy,” Mr Naughtin explains.

“We also have a lot of SDA houses that have been built by private developers that are sitting vacant. There are thousands of vacancies, including more than a thousand in brand new purpose built disability accommodation.

“As you go out into regional Australia there is an issue there in terms of availability. This goes to the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) because they need to be providing quality data to private companies who are going to invest in [regional] SDA in order to build that housing.”

Unfortunately, people living in rural and remote areas are often missing out on dedicated housing, whether it is SDA or non-SDA.

Non-SDA housing is also available for people with disability who do not qualify for the highest level of support. These homes are still available through the NDIS and providers can often pair accessible housing with Supported Independent Living (SIL) and other daily supports.

Limited workforces, unknown demand and financial risks for builders are some of the reasons why rural and remote communities have no purpose-built accessible housing.

You can also access NDIS support through Individualised Living Options (ILO), which is funding for in-home supports excluding housing costs.

Alternative housing support may be accessible outside of the NDIS for select people, either through independent organisations, the Department of Social Services, or with assistance from Local Area Coordinators.

Renovation options for people with disability

In regional or rural areas where accessible housing options are limited or not present, home modifications may be your next best option. It means you do not have to move houses and can stay in an area where there is a local support network to suit your needs.

Support is available for a range of renovations, including low-cost installations, like grab rails, non-structural/minor home modifications, and high-cost Complex Home Modifications (CHM) that requires structural changes.

Home modifications can be included in your NDIS plan, especially if your home significantly impacts your living and care arrangements and you or your carers cannot easily access common rooms like kitchens or bathrooms.

The NDIA will require a home modification assessment plan for approval of work, including guidance from an Occupational Therapist on CHM. For modifications costing over $30,000, you will have to engage with an NDIS Registered Building Works Project Manager (BWPM).

It is also possible for you to include your own funds for any renovations. For example, the NDIA will fund standard modifications and fittings, but you can use your own money to cover the costs of upgrading to premium finishes or fittings.

If you do have this option, Mr Naughtin recommends trying to find accessible housing first over home modifications.

Ms Naughtin explains that you have to advocate for home modifications with the NDIS and you may find a difference between the modifications you need and the funding you are actually granted.

“Retrofitting is very difficult, very expensive and it’s often a stop-gap solution that [Australia have] been employing forever,” Mr Naughtin explains.

“If a person in a wheelchair is only fitting out their house, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can access another house to visit someone. And if they want to move, but there’s no accessible housing available, we’re locking people into their homes. It needs to be across society.”

Future housing accessibility

Housing accessibility will increase in most States and Territories when the National Construction Code (NCC) is updated in 2023.

Under those guidelines, all new builds must meet a Silver Level of accessibility that has been outlined by Livable Housing Australia (LHA).

It will ensure that the framework for accessible housing is in place, meaning modifications will prove less costly and many people with disability can stay near support networks.

“The reforms that have come in as part of the new National Construction Code (NCC) are transformative for people with disability and the broader community,” Mr Naughtin says.

“What it means is that for the first time, we as a community will start to build more accessible homes.

“That goes for people with disability but it also goes for all of us who are ageing and will ultimately need to live somewhere where we need to enter the front door and use the bathroom.”

Future housing in rural and regional areas will be more accessible, making it easier for people living with disability to live where they choose.

Have you found accessible housing difficult to find in a rural or remote area? Tell us all about your experiences in the comments below.

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Related content

Understanding Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA)
Finding an accessible house in Australia
Individualised Living Options funding explained