Push for affordable, accessible housing

Published 1:27pm 6 April 2023

Push for affordable, accessible housing
Words by Jodie Powell

Spinal Life Australia has welcomed a recent decision by Moreton Bay Regional Council to provide incentives for the private sector to construct social housing.

Executive Manager Member Services Ross Duncan says it’s an important step towards ensuring people of all abilities have access to affordable housing.

“Social housing is a really critical matter that the general Australian community is becoming more aware of in the last couple of months, especially with the rising cost of living,” Ross says.

“We welcome Moreton Bay Regional Council’s approach to try to stimulate the creation of more affordable housing.”

He says last month’s decision by Council to waive all development fees and infrastructure charges for privately built and owned residences that are managed by a community housing provider couldn’t have come at a better time, with phased changes to the National Construction Code taking effect in May and October.

“Building affordable housing is important, but building affordable, accessible housing is future proofing,” Ross says.

|“Council has taken a great step to accelerate social housing – they could lead the way in accessible housing.|

A helping hand

“In terms of equity, diversity and equality, (Council) should aspire to more liveable housing design guidelines.

“Rather than just building houses or units that only able-bodied people can live in, it creates flexibility.”

Launching the social housing policy, Mayor Peter Flannery described it as “ a radical attempt to incentivise private sector construction of affordable social housing”.

“We’re coming out of the gates first and sending a strong message to the private sector that we are willing to work with them, we’ve already slashed the usual red tape, and we’re willing to sweeten the deal further by saving them literally hundreds of thousands of dollars on construction,” he said.

“In the current market where materials are expensive and labour is hard to find, we want them to know Moreton Bay is the best place for their bottom line.

“I’m conscious for locals that Moreton Bay’s affordability is one of its most attractive qualities, which means we need to prioritise investment in affordable housing as our population booms.

“There are no tricks, no gimmicks, no hidden costs here for developers. The facility will just need to be managed by a community housing provider, but the building can remain privately owned by the developer.”

Opportunity awaits

The National Construction Code’s new liveable housing provisions mean new homes must incorporate seven key elements to meet the minimum accessibility standard level of Silver, including step-free entries and easy access bathrooms.

Spinal Life Australia chief advisor – government John Mayo also applauds Council’s new Attraction of Affordable Social Housing Policy and says there’s an opportunity to encourage developers to raise the bar beyond Silver level accessibility compliance.

|“Their announcement is fantastic and well done for their leadership” John says.|

“We would simply like them - within the remit that they have - to actually try and influence properties to be accessible at the minimum of Silver level, but also seek some developers to move up to Gold, which is only adding another few items.

“The first thing is that when you add those features to a property it enhances things in a number of ways.

“Whoever the owner is, you’re never really concerned about having to put in tenants of a particular type, because once you have those universal design features you can have anyone living there.

“You actually reduce maintenance costs because when things are better designed people don’t damage the property because a person understands their own position in relation to that bathroom or kitchen.”

Benefits for all ages

John and Ross say boosting housing accessibility not only benefits people with a disability, it allows people to “age in place” without having to retrofit modifications to meet changing mobility needs.

“Just think of a young couple – if their ageing parents can come and visit them, they can participate in the lives of their children,” John says.

“While we put this emphasis on over-60 clients needing accessible housing, in actual fact young couples need it just as much.”

Extra features in Gold level homes include kitchens and laundries designed to support ease of movement between fixed benches, an entry-level bedroom, switches and power points at heights that are easy to reach for everyone and doors that can be easily and independently opened by people with mobility limitations.

Affordable and achievable

“A lot of organisations have built a position that inclusive access makes homes more expensive, but if building accessibly is part of the construction process it’s affordable and achievable,” John says.

“When we saw Council’s announcement (about waiving fees for private sector companies building social housing), we thought ‘you might as well design them so they’re accessible’.

“Council is in a unique position of being able to influence the construction of more accessible housing.

|“The time for accessible housing is now.”|


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