Australia Takes Steps Toward Universal Design in Homes

From Australia Aging Agenda:

Older Australians are set to gain from the release of new voluntary standards for universal housing design.

Leaders from the housing industry and the disability sector worked together to develop the standards through the federal government's National Dialogue on Universal Design.

Master Builders Australia and the Housing Industry Association have also agreed to a target to make all new homes compliant with universal design principles by 2020.

The livable housing guideline establishes three levels of standards - silver, gold and platinum.

To meet the baseline silver standard, houses must have a stepless entry, wide doors and corridors, a ground-floor toilet and a bathroom with a hobless shower and reinforced walls.

The Older Persons Affordable Housing Alliance - made up of Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) and Council on the Ageing (COTA) - said the decision was a milestone for older Australians.

COTA has been campaigning for a broad application of universal design principles for over a decade and COTA was directly involved in the development of the guidelines.

CEO, Ian Yates said the guidelines followed common sense and would prove useful for older Australians.

"One of the big issues that always gets raised is that it costs money to do this but in fact, the industry tell us that the cost is only two or three thousand dollars extra for each house and the more it is adopted, the less that cost will be," he said.

"At the moment, a lot of these things are non-standard items but if they are used more, they will become standard items and the cost will decrease.

"The amenity gained from these design characteristics far outweighs the cost and I would predict that in a few years, people will ask why on earth we didn't do this earlier because it will bring about enormous savings on retro-fitting."

The Older Persons Affordable Housing Alliance is now focusing on ways to upgrade existing homes to make them accessible.

ACSA CEO, Greg Mundy said the federal government should consider consolidating the various programs for renovating and restoring current building stock.

"There are lots of government programs that support home modification for older people but they are a little bit piecemeal and a little bit underdone," he said.

"It would be a good area for strategic investment because these modifications just require a one-off cost and they have the potential to be quite cost effective."

The federal government will contribute $1 million towards the establishment of an organisation that will promote the new livable housing guidelines.

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