People with disability will no longer struggle to find accessible houses in the future due to new mandatory housing accessible standards being introduced into the National Construction Code (NCC) in 2022.
On Friday, Federal, State and Territory Building Ministers agreed to the introduction of the Liveable Housing Design Guidelines (LHDG) Silver Level into the NCC, which will require all homes, including flats and apartments, to be accessible to people with disability and older Australians.
The Building Better Homes campaign, consisting of peak bodies and advocacy groups for people with disability and older Australians, have labelled the adoption of mandatory housing standards as a massive win for the community, people with disability and older Australians.
People with disability and their advocacy groups have been lobbying for accessible housing mandates for nearly 20 years, and now all future housing will be more appropriate for people with disability or mobility issues.
The silver housing standards mean that all new houses will need to include a step free path from street to door, a step free entrance door, wider internal doorways to allow wheelchairs, hobless showers, reinforced walls around showers, toilets, and baths, safe to use stairs, and a toilet at the entry level.
Chief Executive Officer of People with Disability Australia (PWDA), Sebastian Zagarella, says the new accessibility standards for housing will improve the living conditions of people with disability.
"PWDA is very pleased our lobbying for accessible housing standards has paid off. PWDA expects the silver standards for new and extensively modified homes will result in there being more places people with disability can live," says Mr Zagarella.
"We expect the number of places people with disability can choose from will increase over time as more builders and renovators produce Silver and Gold Level accessible housing. Accessible homes will also ensure we are able to participate in our communities more, by having more homes where we want them.
"We hope the housing accessibility reforms will help improve the living standards of people with disability and make disabled people’s search for a suitable new home much easier."
While PWDA was pushing for gold, Mr Zagarella says that the silver accessibility provisions are still very welcome, especially given how hard parts of the housing industry had fought against reform.
Liveable Housing Australia created the three level guidelines in 2011 - silver, gold and platinum - as best practice standards to be used in housing design and construction to make safer, accessible homes for people with disability or older Australians.
In 2008, the building industry set an aspirational target of all housing being accessible, or all new housing being built to an accessible standard, by 2020, and the Government encouraged the sector to take on the voluntary guidelines which were voluntary, however, less than 5 percent of built houses over that period of time were accessible.
The building industry and property developers have been pushing back against mandatory housing accessibility provisions for years, as the LHDG Silver Level would add a 1 percent cost increase on top of the cost of building a home.
The gold accessibility standards would add about a 3 percent cost increase to a newly built home.
The 2022 NCC will also include a provision for States and Territories to voluntarily implement the LHDG Gold Level standards if they choose to, which would add extra accessibility measures on top of the Silver Level standards.
LHDG Gold Level includes all of the elements in the Silver Level, but also has special recommendations for design and use of kitchen and laundry spaces, allocation of space that can be used as a ground/entry level bedroom, as well as requirements for home design elements such as switches and power points, doors and tap hardware to be safe and accessible for all users.
There will be a technical referral pathway in place so that States and Territories can upgrade over time to a Gold Level accessibility standard.
Director of the Melbourne University's Melbourne Disability Institute (MDI), Professor Bruce Bonyhady, says the move to mandate accessible housing standards will be fantastic for people with disability in the future.
"What it means is that over time, more and more housing will be accessible, which will be good for both people with disability but also for older Australians, most of them who want to age in place," says Professor Bonyhady.
The MDI previously undertook economic analysis on accessible housing and people with disability, which found that 80 percent of participants said that a lack of accessible housing had adversely affected their socialisation ability to get together with friends, and 30 percent indicated it had adversely affected their employment prospects.
A lot of these home modification barriers people with disability face, indicated in the survey, included affordability, funding ineligibility, structural restrictions, private rentals, body corporate approval, and shortage of skill builders.
Professor Bonyhady says, "This [NCC] decision means that over time those barriers to inclusion, both in terms of inclusion in the community and inclusion in work, will be gradually eliminated, and from those points of view, this decision is particularly welcome."
Convenor of the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD), Dr Margaret Ward, says this mandatory accessible housing regulation is significant as it will make access to housing the new norm and will catch Australia up to other countries that already have accessible housing provisions in place.
She added that previously people with disability have had to argue their case for basic access to housing, but now the roles will be switched, and people wanting to build a house without accessible measures will need to argue from the basis of wanting to exclude people and to have an inaccessible home.