In 2010, the National Dialogue for Universal Housing Design took place at Kirribilli House.

The National Dialogue was the result of the previous Australian Government inviting housing industry leaders and community leaders representing people with disabilities and older people to address the issue of a lack of suitable housing stock in Australia.

Members of the National Dialogue included the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Australian Institute of Architects, National People with Disabilities and Carers Council, The Property Council of Australia, and Stockland, amongst several others. The overarching aim of convening the group was to address the lack of accessible housing available in Australia, particularly in light of an ageing population and a growing impending crisis in housing.

A number of activities have been initiated at a state and municipal level across Australia to better address this issue, but the direct result of the National Dialogue was the establishment of Livable Housing Australia (LHA) in 2011.

The strategies implemented by LHA were developing the Livable Housing Design (LHD) Guidelines, commencing a certification process based on compliance with the Guidelines, establishing mechanisms and registering assessors to support the accreditation process, and the ongoing promotion of the Guidelines to industry. Compliance and subsequent certification remains an entirely voluntary scheme to builders and developers.

The stated aim of the Guidelines is to produce homes which are easier and safer to use for all occupants inclusive of people with disabilities, older people, people with temporary disabilities and families with young children. They state that a ‘livable home is designed to:

  • Be easy to enter and exit;
  • Be easy to move around in;
  • Be capable of easy and cost effective adaption; and
  • Anticipate and respond to the changing needs of home occupants.

Three performance levels are identified under the guidelines – Silver, Gold and Platinum. The Silver level is the least onerous and focuses on key spatial elements, allowing for future adaptability of the home at far lower cost to the occupant. Gold allows larger circulation to key areas within the home and extends to other areas such as the kitchen and bathroom. Platinum circulation requirements increase further and includes further features such living room and flooring guidelines.

During the initial convening of the National Dialogue, a number of agreed targets were identified regarding uptake by industry and the general community. These included:

  • 25 per cent to Silver level by 2013;
  • 50 per cent to Silver Level by 2015;
  • 75 per cent to Silver level by 2018; and,
  • 100 per cent to Silver level by 2020.

Agreement was also reached to review uptake at two to three-year intervals across the nominated 10-year period with the review including residential building, aged care as well as public and social housing. This review was not however initiated by the National Dialogue or by government.

Founding member of the National Dialogue, the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) in conjunction with RI Australia, recently published a report attempting to assess progress against the aforementioned targets.

The report states that in early May 2014, LHA had issued 294 certificates across Australia with 24 of these actually built. LHA did, however, also state at the time that 500 dwellings were registered for certification but had not yet been certified. They also identified more than 1,850 other dwellings which claim to have been designed or built to at least Silver level but had not registered for certification, and they anticipate that there are hundreds more dwellings delivered which would meet the Silver level requirements of the Guideline.

The report goes on to suggest that in light of conservative estimates for new housing starts per year at approximately 140,000, the initial goals of the National Dialogue have not and will not be met. That even with the limited data available, it was clear that the housing industry has not responded to the voluntary scheme and that without sufficient incentives, little progress is likely to be seen in future.

ANUHD and RI Australia’s recommendations following their review were for Government to continue supporting and evaluating the stated targets, but also assess the impact that minimum features to all housing being adopted would have on individual residents as well as on cost projections of home modifications and funded services for older people and people with disabilities.

With the target of ensuring 50 per cent of homes reach Silver level by 2015 virtually guaranteed not to be met, their recommendation is that minimum access requirements for housing be incorporated into the BCA as a priority.

In more positive news for the scheme, soon after the publishing of the report, Grocon announced it will commit to all future Grocon residential developments meeting the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. Maybe a change is yet to come?