Residential accommodation for people with significant functional impairment or very high support needs has traditionally been offered in the form of group homes often referred to as community residential units.

These group homes would typically see a number of bedrooms (one for each resident) which would generally have an ensuite attached to each of them. The remainder of the home would be common to all residents and its detail design would depend on the needs of the client group to be accommodated. For example, where a high proportion of residents are anticipated to have physical disabilities, the ensuites would generally be designed to incorporate a higher longer pan, a step-less shower recess, grab rails and the like. Meanwhile, the common areas would have larger circulation spaces and floor finishes which are amenable to wheelchair users, and so on. Also included would be staff quarters to allow for overnight stay of carers and a space to undertake their administrational duties.

Earlier this year, the National Disability Insurance Scheme published the Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) – Decision Paper on Pricing and Payments. This document was produced to set out the benchmark pricing and payments approach and administrative arrangements associated with the land and built element of SDA under the NDIS in future.

At this stage, it is offered for information only as additional authorisation from the relevant state-based ministers is required before operationalisation/ However, some insights as to the future shape of this type of housing stock can be gained from the paper.

Firstly, the paper seeks to clarify that SDA refers to accommodation for participants (of the NDIS) who require specialist housing solutions to assist with delivery of support that cater for their significant functional impairment and/or very high support needs. It does not refer to the actual support services. Thus, it separates the provision of housing and services.

Also significant is that this type of accommodation has been previously primarily delivered or funded by state and territory governments. The transition from state-based provision to funding from the NDIS has now begun from the new financial year.

The funding will be provided on a per-person basis and will reflect a range of different types of housing as well as specialist disability needs. Clarity on the decision making and operation processes associated to the funding of participants of the scheme will be published in future when these have been further developed and agreed. The participant centred funded approach is instigated with a view to creating a competitive market for SDA. It will thereby also bring greater choice and control to people with disabilities in relation to their housing.

A firm commitment is also expressed to the continuity of support of the existing group accommodation. However, it is anticipated over time, and as the supply of housing increases, participants will be able to review their accommodation needs and explore alternative arrangements which are anticipated to become more prevalent.

For example, the Summer Foundation, an organisation that seeks to address policy and practice related to young people in nursing homes, has in more recent times undertaken demonstration projects in partnership with other relevant housing and funding providers.

A recent project in Abbotsford, Melbourne includes six fully accessible self-contained one bedroom apartments designed specifically for people with disabilities within a 59-unit mixed private and social housing development.

The project is in an inner city location, close to transport as well as retail and community facilities. The building and the apartments as mentioned above are designed to maximise access and independence for people with a disability, and additional technological features such as environmental control and communication to a separate carer occupied room within the greater building have been included. In combination, the person with a disability is able to be more independent in their home as well as the surrounding community, lessening the demand on carer assistance and enhancing privacy, dignity and personal control.

Of course, the commercial incentives for investors to consider contributing to this future increase and diversification of SDA housing stock is a major variable. The aforementioned paper sets out the proposed pricing for SDA in a number of categories.

One categorisation deals with the design of the SDA itself, with classifications that include Basic, Improved Livability, Fully Accessible, and Robust. These provide increased provisions for access to people with disabilities which are largely informed by the Livable Housing Australia guidelines (addressed in previous editorials by this author).

Pricing is also categorised by apartment, villa, townhouse, house and group house as well as number of bedrooms/residents, and whether accommodation is available for onsite overnight assistance staff. The pricing is also sensitive to whether the project is a new build, existing housing stock or legacy stock (existing group housing). Further indexation is also applied on the location of the housing based on Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) regions, and on whether the housing has been provided with a fire sprinkler. Beyond all of the above, the future NDIS participant will also be required to make a reasonable rental contribution based on their income, inclusive of Disability Support Pension and Commonwealth Rent Assistance.

At first glance, it would appear that new SDA meeting Improved Livability classification or higher could potentially see a combined return on investment significantly higher than the equivalent non-NDIS market rate. Further to this, new builds will see this pricing applicable for a 20year period before returning to the lower existing stock prices.

It has long been understood that the levels of suitable residential accommodation for people with disabilities is well below that of the demand for a number of factors. This may well be an initiative that creates a sizable change in improving the situation.