The Evolution of Housing for People with Disabilities
11 April 2017 at 8:33 am
Australia needs to work towards a future where the disability service system and housing solutions work together and where the current limits to choice and control are progressively removed writes Dr George Taleporos, policy manager at the Summer Foundation.
This week on the ABC’s Lateline program, people with disabilities had a glimpse of the future of disability housing in Australia – a future where people with disabilities choose where they live and who they live with.
This is something that most of us take for granted, but for people with disabilities it is an exciting new possibility that the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is promising to deliver. The NDIS’ Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) payments make it possible for people with disabilities to have choice about their housing by allocating housing payments to the individual with a disability rather than the service provider.
Choosing where you live and who you live with is critical to addressing the high levels of violence and abuse that people with disabilities are subjected to. The endemic violence and abuse in government funded group homes has been revealed in a range of state and federal parliamentary inquiries and is well-known to people with disabilities and disability advocates. Unfortunately, this model of housing is the dominant housing option in Australia for people with disabilities. Very few alternatives exist for people with high support needs and the most common alternative is residential aged care, another unacceptable option.
This is why the Summer Foundation, Australia’s leading advocacy organisation that works to stop people with disabilities being forced into nursing homes has created Summer Housing, a not-for-profit sister organisation which will develop new housing options. These housing options will enable people with disabilities to live in their own apartment in a mainstream residential development and only share their home with other people if they choose to. The new housing options will build upon the Hunter housing project that was showcased in the Lateline program, incorporating the latest in design and technology as well as 24-hour on call assistance to enable people with high support needs to live independently in the community.
Summer Housing has recently signed a contract with Grocon to develop 11 new apartments in a medium-density apartment complex in Fairfield, Victoria. This is an exciting step towards increasing the range and quality of housing for people with disabilities. There will be more on the way in a range of sought-after locations across Australia.
I am proud of these developments, not only as the policy manager at the Summer Foundation, but as a person with high support needs who has been advocating for the improving housing options for people with disabilities for the last 20 years. As a disability advocate, I have first-hand knowledge of a broken disability service system, where housing is both inaccessible and unaffordable and where people with high support needs are forced to live in nursing homes, group homes or some other kind of hell.
At the Summer Foundation my work life provides me with opportunities to challenge the system, shift the power to people with disabilities, and demonstrate that individualised independent living is possible, even for people with “severe” disabilities like me.
The future that we need to work towards is one where the disability service system and housing solutions work together, where one doesn’t compromise the other and where the current limits to choice and control are progressively removed. How we do this is by developing an evidence base, one that is well informed by the experiences of people with disabilities. We use that evidence to prototype solutions and evaluate them so that the evolution of housing options for people with disabilities continues.
Systemic change is an evolving process. The thousands of group homes in Australia today, are largely mini institutions that evolved from the large-scale institutions of the 1960s and 70s. Once upon a time, group homes were seen as innovative, and they were, compared to the large institutions that they were built to replace.
In today’s housing landscape for people with disabilities, our Hunter Housing Project is innovative but at some point it will be outdated and better solutions will emerge. This Hunter model provides 24/7 on site support, an initial approach that we are evaluating as we look for a solution to move people with high support needs out of nursing homes. When planning commenced several years ago, little was known about how the NDIS would fund housing and support for people with high needs and a single service provider was considered to be the only viable option at the time.
This is the journey that we are on, housing solutions are evolving but they can only evolve in the right direction when we are prepared to be critical about what we are doing and are prepared to test what could work better. We also need the policy levers to be set to encourage innovation and accessibility for all people, including those of us with a disability. SDA payments to people with disabilities are an important part of this but so too is a mainstream housing strategy that mandates minimum standards for accessibility in all new housing developments.
While housing is evolving, service provision is devolving. From government, down to service providers, and now finally to where the power belongs, with people with disabilities. This is an essential principle of the NDIS, putting choice and control and with that, power, in the hands of people with disabilities. It is about somewhat abstract yet critical concepts, such as self-determination, self-development and dignity of risk. It’s about people with disabilities being in charge of our lives, of who supports us and how we are supported. It’s about taking charge, being in charge and with that, taking on responsibilities that we may not have had before.
Unfortunately, many people with disabilities, especially people with disabilities living in group homes and nursing homes, may not have at this point in time, discovered their capacity to direct their supports and take on that responsibility. Our challenge is to build housing solutions that are not only physically accessible but that support people to move forward, at their own pace, towards self-direction and self-determination.
Only then will we see an inclusive community where people with disabilities have access to the same opportunities that the rest of society takes for granted. We should also see inroads in the reduction of violence perpetrated against people with disabilities as we have the power to decide who we live with and how we are supported.
About the author: Dr George Taleporos has more than 20 years experience in the disability field, focused predominantly on advocacy, human rights policy and practice, service development and management. He has a PhD in psychology, and an Honours Degree in sociology. He is the policy manager at the Summer Foundation.