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Specialist disability accommodation – Pipeline of supply

14 January 2021 at 8:32 am
Di Winkler
People with high or complex disability support needs have traditionally had extremely limited options when it comes to finding somewhere to live. The growing specialist disability accommodation market is beginning to change that, write Dr Di Winkler and Alecia Rathbone.

Di Winkler | 14 January 2021 at 8:32 am

Alecia Rathbone


Specialist disability accommodation – Pipeline of supply
14 January 2021 at 8:32 am

People with high or complex disability support needs have traditionally had extremely limited options when it comes to finding somewhere to live. The growing specialist disability accommodation market is beginning to change that, write Dr Di Winkler and Alecia Rathbone.

To have genuine choice about where and how to live, people need a diverse range of quality options to choose from. For many people who have high or complex disability support needs, those options simply haven’t existed. Thousands of younger Australians with disability live in aged care, while many more people live with ageing parents or in group homes, in situations that either aren’t sustainable or don’t suit them, because they can’t access better options.

A mature specialist disability accommodation (SDA) market has the potential to deliver better housing options for thousands of people with high and complex disability support needs. 

For the SDA market to deliver on this potential, both sides of the market – suppliers of housing and people who may choose to live in that housing – need access to quality and timely information. With a clearer picture of the current SDA pipeline, developers and investors can plan and invest with greater certainty. With an understanding of the housing options that are becoming available, people with disability can exercise greater choice.

Specialist Disability Accommodation – Supply in Australia is a report that has been released this week by the Housing Hub and the Summer Foundation. Based on a survey of 57 SDA developers in October and November 2020, there are 1,817 SDA places in development. When combined with the latest NDIA data on SDA, there are an estimated total of 13,300 places that are available and, in the pipeline (one to five resident properties). It is expected that there will be around 28,000 eligible to live in SDA when the scheme is fully rolled out.

The SDA supply report provides an update on the growth of SDA supply across Australia and shares insights into current market sentiment. This is the third annual report of its type, building on previous work of the Summer Foundation and Social Ventures Australia. 

This year’s report shows continuing strong growth in the supply of SDA, but also indicates that growth across states and territories isn’t uniform. The big cities of Australia’s east coast are home to a majority of the identified pipeline of SDA, and encouraging growth in the supply of SDA is also being seen in Adelaide and Perth. Meanwhile, the development of SDA in Tasmania has been limited and no pipeline of SDA at all was identified in the Northern Territory.

In terms of building type, apartments dominate the SDA landscape, but some jurisdictions are seeing growth in the pipeline of houses and other building types. With respect to SDA design categories, the supply of high physical support homes is strong in a number of jurisdictions. The pipeline of robust homes is less well developed.

The results from this survey show that, on the whole, developers and investors are delivering a steady and growing pipeline of SDA properties for people with disability. With active stewardship from the NDIA, the SDA market has the potential to deliver quality housing that meets the needs of thousands of people with disability with high support needs across Australia.

This supply survey builds on the insights from the recently released SDA Explainer for Investors, which supports impact investors to make informed decisions about investment in the SDA market. Having NDIS participants with the right level of SDA payments in their plans to match this new pipeline of SDA dwellings is essential for the success of the SDA market. One of the impediments to the emerging SDA market identified in the explainer is the fact that only 26 per cent ($185 million) of the projected $700 million per annum of SDA payments is allocated in the plans of NDIS participants. Four years after the release of SDA policy and payments, SDA providers and investors anticipated that there would be 28,000 informed and empowered people with disability with resources from SDA payments that would enable them to explore and choose from a range of housing options and providers. Most of the 15,240 NDIS participants that do have SDA in their plan are living in legacy stock and have the “basic” level of SDA in their plans that does not enable them to move to the new SDA dwellings in the pipeline. Most of the NDIS participants who are eligible for SDA are not aware of the fact that SDA payments give them choice and control over where they live and purchasing power to choose from a range of housing options.

Prior to the NDIS and the SDA market, housing and support for people with disability was a welfare model where people with disability were expected to be grateful recipients of whatever housing was offered to them. In a market-based system, the NDIS invests in people with disability with the aim of maximising their independence and community inclusion, and reducing the long-term liability of the scheme. As the SDA market develops, it will turn the welfare culture within the disability service systems on its head. People with disability will become informed and empowered consumers. Innovation in the housing stock built will be increasingly driven by the perspectives, outcomes and insights of people with disability.

To build the capacity of NDIS participants, the Housing Hub team recently created a series of videos and factsheets that explain SDA, are holding a series of free workshops and webinars in 2021 for people with disability and professional supporters, and have just launched an SDA Housing Advice Line – 1300 61 64 63. Informed and empowered consumers are critical to a flourishing SDA market. 

Another impediment to the SDA market raised by investors in a recent survey was the length of time NDIA processes take to approve SDA for potential tenants in new SDA dwellings. Recent answers to questions raised at Senate Estimates indicate that business systems within the NDIA have changed to streamline this process with the agency considering decisions related to housing and supports all together. Over a three month period (August to October 2020), the SDA decision making panel considered 1,008 SDA requests and took an average of 50 days to produce a recommendation. The SDA panel approved SDA for 86 per cent of participants during this period. In December, the SDA panel implemented measures to meet the increased demand and reduced the timeframe from 50 days to 10 days. The changes to NDIA business processes outlined via Senate Estimates are most welcome. 

However, there is significant room for improvement in order to achieve more streamlined and transparent SDA processes and communication with both NDIS participants and SDA providers. Recent feedback from a range of SDA providers indicates potential tenants are not getting SDA approved in their NDIS plan at the level needed for the housing they have chosen resulting in over 100 new SDA properties remaining vacant for many months. Genuine and open collaboration between the agency, providers, investors, participants and other stakeholders with a central focus on tenant outcomes has enormous potential to strengthen the processes and ensure a viable and responsive market.

The SDA market provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate how the provision of good quality housing designed to maximise independence and autonomy has the potential to reduce reliance on paid supports and the long-term liability of the NDIS. With active and adept stewardship, the SDA market has the potential to stimulate world-class innovation in disability housing and support that incorporates smart home technology and is cost-effective and evidenced based.

Di Winkler  |  @ProBonoNews

Dr Di Winkler is the CEO and founder of the Summer Foundation.

Alecia Rathbone  |  @ProBonoNews

Alecia Rathbone is the general manager of Summer Foundation's social enterprise

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