Royal Commission: Analysing the recommendations on housing and homelessness

Last week, we looked at the important role of independent disability advocacy and how it is reflected throughout the 12 volumes of the Disability Royal Commission Final Report 

In continuing our analysis of the Royal Commission recommendations, we have turned our focus to housing and homelessness. This analysis also coincides with our recent submission on the National Housing and Homelessness Plan, dated October 2023, which we have submitted to the Department of Social Services (DSS). 

It has long been a concern of disability advocates that many people with disability continue to find themselves in inappropriate housing or more direct forms of homelessness. In August 2022, prior to the Disability Royal Commission public hearing 26, DANA released a joint statement that highlighted some of the significant and wide-ranging consequences for people with disability of not having a safe, secure and appropriate place to live. DANA, Inclusion Australia, and People with Disability Australia, called on the DRC to ensure recommendations would “break the policy inertia that has allowed these unacceptable conditions to continue for too long”. 

DRC recommendations for housing 

The specific needs of people with disability in addressing homelessness, as well as ensuring that there is sufficient access to safe and secure housing, is highlighted in the following DRC recommendations: 

  • 7.33 – Prioritise people with disability in key national housing and homelessness approaches 
  • 7.35 – Increase the availability and supply of accessible and adaptive housing for people with disability through the National Construction Code 
  • 7.36 – Improve social housing operational policy and processes 
  • 7.37 – Increase tenancy and occupancy protections for people with disability 

Volume 7 (Inclusive education, employment and housing), Part C: Housing, focuses on the “fundamental human right to live in suitable housing, and be connected to the community”. DANA endorses and welcomes the recommendations to make people with disability a priority group under the Housing and Homelessness Plan.   

People with Disability as a Priority Group 

DANA has argued in our housing submission that the needs of people with disability should be considered in conjunction with the other priority groups flagged in the issues paper, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing. This was a key recommendation of the DRC at 7.33. 

An important part of Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021 –2031 is about ensuring that people with disability have access to appropriate and affordable housing that respects their choice and control. It was disappointing that the issues paper for the Housing and Homelessness plan only discussed the needs of people with disability in a few small sections, but we are hopeful that the DRC recommendations and collective effort of the sector will help to change this.   

Availability and supply of accessible and adaptive housing 

Access to homelessness services is something identified in the outcomes from the DRC. Advocates have long reported their frustration as people with disability end up having to take unsuitable homes that don’t meet their disability needs simply because there are no other available properties. The DRC has recommended at 7.35 that all new social housing comply with the voluntary ABCB (Australian Building Code Board) Livable Housing Design Standard to make more social housing accessible to more people. 

Many advocates and the DRC also reported that homelessness services are inaccessible for people with disability and that many require significant support to navigate a complex set of processes, organisations and systems. In our submission on the National Housing and Homelessness Plan, we’ve endorsed the DRC’s recommendations at 7.40 that homeless programs move to a ‘housing first’ model to get people in homes ASAP and to increase funding to advocacy and legal programs to help people with disability navigate those systems.  

Social housing operations  

The third recommendation is in direct response to Article 28 of the CRPD which requires States Parties to take measures to ensure people with disability have equal access to public housing programs. The DRC agrees in recommendation 7.36 – social housing processes and policies should be accessible and inclusive, particularly given the high proportion of people with disability who are social housing tenants.

Something Advocates regularly observe is disputes between public or community housing authorities and the NDIS about who should pay to make changes to a property to accommodate the accessibility needs of a tenant. In addition to the recommendations of the DRC, we’ve recommended that the housing and homelessness plan ought to clarify the federal and state governments responsibility for those changes, to make sure that any disputes about who foots the bill don’t get in the way of getting those changes made.  

DANA also stressed that new social housing shouldn’t be relegated to new greenfield suburbs. Many new developments lack the connection to services and transport options required by people with disability, as well as separating many from their communities.  

DANA’s Submission argues that efforts to substantially reduce homelessness are dependent on having a free and sustainable supply of appropriate housing to direct people towards. Our submission also highlights that ongoing and sustained levels of investment in social housing are necessary to ensure that the current shortfall of housing is adequately addressed, (earlier recommendations from Homelessness Australia have suggested a figure of 25,000 social homes a year is required to end homelessness). An increase in the availability of homes is crucial to ensure that people with disability have choice and control over where they live as well as to achieve other goals like the abolishment of group homes. 

Tenancy and occupancy protections 

DANA is pleased to see a recommendation for the abolition of no-grounds evictions recommended in 7.37, which would ensure that tribunals can consider a person’s disability when they have discretion to order an eviction, noting the disproportionate impact such provisions have on people with disability. We’re also glad that the DRC has acknowledged and valued the work that advocates and other legal support play in this area – recommending for substantial additional support for people with disability navigating tenancy disputes. 

However, there are a couple of areas in this space where the government can go further. We’ve also recommended that governments consider ways to regulate the rate of rental increases for people living in private rentals. Abolishing no-grounds evictions will be a good step but very limited if a landlord can freely price a person out of their home at the end of their contract.  

The very steep recent increases in rental costs are also having a very large impact on people with disability, many of whom are recipients of the DSP or Jobseeker payments. We have recommended additional increases to those support payments to make sure that people with disability can effectively participate in the market and that having a home doesn’t take up all of these payments.  

The DRC also recommends at 7.47 about ensuring there are more protections in place for people in Supported Residential Services (SRS) such as boarding homes and so-called ‘tier 3’ residential services. This includes much more oversight and regulation of such settings and instituting more tenancy protections so that people aren’t evicted at short notice. We’ve also recommended that similar protections be put in place for group homes, including for the expansion of community visitor schemes and to consider allowing right of entry for advocates.

Further analysis 

We are currently assessing the recommendations on Quality and Safeguarding and will post our analysis report shortly.