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Disability, aging and the property sector 06/07/2013

The challenge of delivering sufficient accommodation that complies with the requirements of “universal access” is considerable

An interesting document was released recently by URBIS which looked at disability care and the property sector.  They quoted the Productivity Commission Report on Disability Care and Support released in 2011 which estimated that $1.2b per year needs to be allocated to additional accommodation for people with a disability.

The challenge for delivering sufficient accommodation that complies with the requirements of “universal access” is considerable as it entails wider hallways, accessible showers and toilets and wider doorframes.  

It is not only the inside that needs to be appropriate; the report says the importance of location cannot be underestimated.  According to Bruce Bonyhady, Chairman, Philanthropy Australia, the main criteria for the location of the housing stock is accessibility to public transport (generally trains) and proximity to shops. 

The challenge is that this location is popular across the board making competition, and therefore prices, out of the reach of many people with a disability.

According to the URBIS report, people with a disability commonly live in lower priced areas as they, and often family carers, have not had the financial resources to afford other locations.  For carers, interrupted work patterns while providing care, or complete withdrawal from the workforce, affects access to the mortgage market.

Bruce Bonyhady sees the housing challenge as an opportunity for residential developers to engage in a new way, in new partnerships. 

One of the commercial triggers for broader adoption of universal access will be our aging population.  In 2010, 17 per cent of our population was over 60 years of age (the government’s definition of “senior”).  By 2041 it is estimated that one quarter of Western Australian’s will be seniors.

Housing has a notional lifespan of 30 – 40 years meaning what we construct from now on will be part of the housing stock that will be housing our aging population.   As in all things, shortage will drive up the price of appropriate stock. 

Mary Ann Jackson, MD Visionary Design Development says it is about designing for immediate use and uses into the future, with adaptation the key to the design solution.

At a minimum of $2,000 per dwelling it would be an impost on housing affordability to mandate universal access for all new dwellings however it is likely that we will see more of the smaller stock, particularly those targeted at the downsizers, voluntarily adopting the structural components of the universal access standards.

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