Many within the disability advocacy sector would be aware that a majority of state and federal governments recently voted to include minimum housing accessibility standards in the National Construction Code (the NCC).
The Code now provides that from 2022, all homes will need to be built to at least Silver Level Liveable Housing Design Standards – we are talking wider doorways and halls as standard, accessible bathrooms and at least one level entry accessway.
It’s a decision that has been a long time coming. Accessible housing across the Australian housing market was a key COAG priority as early as 2009. At that time it was determined that States and Territories would inform and educate the housing sector and encourage voluntary uptake of accessible housing.
Fast forward to 2021, and we are still seeing our members struggling to find housing that is even partially suitable, and little to no voluntary uptake by construction companies across that time.
Mandating liveable design also responds to a direct recommendation of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and realises the Australian Government’s commitments under the current National Disability Strategy, so you can understand why this was such a significant win.
Now before you get too excited there’s a catch (isn’t there always?) which is that while the States and Territories agree in principle to apply the National Construction Code within their jurisdictions, they can actively OPT OUT of parts of the NCC.
Victoria, Qld, ACT and TAS will be accepting the new accessibility provisions and will be importing them into their own jurisdictions.
But NSW is planning to actively ignore the new sections, and won’t even provide clear reasons why.
This means people with accessibility needs on one side of the border will have increased housing options and spend less of their money (including NDIS plan funds and Aged Care) on housing modifications, while those stuck in NSW will continue to struggle to find homes that even come close to meeting their accessibility requirements.
People like Jane*, who has spent many years without access to basic facilities across various properties she has lived in:
I have been disabled for approximately seven years now and during this whole time it has been near impossible to find and maintain secure, safe, affordable, and accessible properties in the private rental market. When I was first diagnosed, I was homeless for the first four years and living on people’s couches… property was not accessible, and I could not even use the shower, so I only showered once every three months when it became absolutely necessary…
PDCN, together with COTA NSW, Rights & Inclusion Australia and People With Disability Australia are part of the Steering Committee for the Building Better Homes Campaign. This campaign was originally a vehicle to push for minimum accessibility within the NCC, but has now turned its focus on NSW as one of the States dragging their heels.
We have made numerous attempts to reach out to the relevant Minister Kevin Anderson MP, but the rhetoric remains the same: “We’re encouraging voluntary uptake across the housing sector, we have set mandated ratios across Landcom builds and people with disability can just go live in social housing.”
It’s squeezing drops from a damp rag into the bucket of need.
The underlying message is – the human rights of people with disability, are less important to us than keeping the Property industry onside.
The Minister won’t engage because he knows his arguments are weak.
The newly released NSW Housing Strategy openly references universal design, stating that it will conduct research to find an ‘agreed evidence base, for the benefits of universal design to meet the diverse needs of NSW households’.
The thing is, we already have the evidence that Liveable Housing Design is fit for purpose for all families, across all stages of life, and that Silver Level Liveable Housing Design represents the best compromise in accessibility vs cost for the general population.
We’ve got the answer now. We don’t need another talkfest. We need ALL states and territories to mandate! 13 years is 13 years too long.
How you can help:
Organisations can sign up to become Building Better Homes campaign partners on the Building Better Homes website and sign up for regular email updates, including campaign kits and media resources.
Organisations can also support our efforts by encouraging people to email to Minister Anderson. To make this as easy as possible, the Building Better Homes has a pro-forma email with fill in options here.
The Building Better Homes campaign is also always looking for campaign faces and case studies for media.
Together, we can make sure people with accessibility needs in NSW aren’t left behind.
Hayley Stone is the Policy Manager at the Physical Disability Council of NSW. To find out about PDCN, including how to become a PDCN member organisation, please go to The Physical Disability Council of NSW – Systemic Disability Advocacy (pdcnsw.org.au)