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We Don’t Just Need More Houses, We Need Real Homes

Hayley Stone, Senior Policy Officer
Hayley Stone, Senior Policy Officer

In just a few months we could revolutionise our housing system for the benefit of everyone. The question remains: is Government responsible enough to do what is needed?

What makes a home a home? I’ve spending a lot of time thinking about this. Is it a space that you can relax in? Entertain people in? A place where you can raise a family? Grow old? A place where you can attend to your everyday needs – wash, sleep, use the bathroom, cook a meal? I think most people would agree that a home should be all these things and more, but the sad reality is that for many Australians this simply isn’t the case.

It’s a poor indictment on our housing industry when PDCN members tell me that in the last 20 years they have never had a home that completely suits their access needs. When they tell me that they spend weeks trying to find rentals that tick at least some of the boxes, or that there are parts of their homes they literally cannot use; when they tell me that they miss out on dinner parties with relatives because they can’t get into their homes or can’t use the bathroom at a friend’s house.

There is no doubt that people with physical disability are a resilient bunch and will often adapt and adjust. But the big question is ‘Why should they, and why are we letting this happen?’ Advocacy is about challenging the notion of ‘just making do’ and saying – to the right people – ‘This is just not good enough’.

Research indicates that there is a 60 per cent chance that a house will be occupied by a person with a disability at some point over its life. Meanwhile the housing industry steadfastly continues to build to design specifications that don’t allow us to live in our homes as our mobility needs change. Housing consumers don’t know what options are out there, and so we remain stuck in a system where we don’t ask about things we don’t know about, and the industry has no obligation to inform us.

At the same time, we are told there are already options. That’s an empty statement to the many older Australians still waiting for Commonwealth Home Support Programme and Home Care Packages, to the 12,000 people awaiting access to Specialist Disability Accommodation or to those who languish on social housing transfer lists for years. It’s of little solace to people who can’t access any of these specialist schemes, and who are forced to accept expensive home modifications and retrofitting because they don’t have access to anything different. Tell it to the mums and dads who have to grudgingly sell their family homes to move into aged care.

This is all just a continuation of the marginalisation of people with disability that we’re all getting tired of.

In the next few months, we have the opportunity to change our housing system for the better. Proposed changes to the National Construction Code could mandate minimum access requirements across all new residential builds. We could require the housing industry to build properties that aren’t just houses, but actual homes. If the changes are approved and if the minimum access requirements are at the right level, these changes would significantly increase accessible residential housing across Australia, giving people with physical disability and their families more options, greater independence, and a greater capacity to participate as members of their community. It would also allow us all to age in place.

Such a decision would also make good on the accessible housing commitments of States and Territories under the Council of Australian Governments’ 2010-2020 National Disability Strategy – a commitment grounded in a realisation that our housing has to change which was made over a decade ago.

We will be lobbying with other disability peak organisations at both State and Federal level to make this change happen. We will put forward our view to the relevant Ministers that a decision to mandate minimum accessibility standards puts the proper focus on families, not properties – on real homes, not just houses.

You can help our efforts by getting involved.

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