Navigating the Complexities of Disability Housing

Navigating the Complexities of Disability Housing – “A weaver is needed to weave the rug together”

Left to right: Paul and Angela Simmons from Ability SDA, Stephen Oliver from ANZ, Arahni Sont, Centro ASSIST, Charles Northcote from Blue Chip and Melanie Southwell from SDA Alliance.

Left to right: Paul and Angela Simmons from Ability SDA, Stephen Oliver from ANZ, Arahni Sont, Centro ASSIST, Charles Northcote from Blue Chip and Melanie Southwell from SDA Alliance.

For people interested in the design and access aspects of this topic, there is a seminar by ADEB on 19th June at https://www.adebevents.com/sydney-seminars

29 and 30 May, 2019: I attended a 2 day conference on “Navigating the Complexities of Disability Housing” that was organised by Criterion Conferences and chaired by Lindsay Kelly from independent Living Villages and Mark Lawler from Achieve Australia. My conclusion was that SDA (Specialist Disability Accommodation) is a complex area but there is keen interest among the stakeholders (service providers, developers, investors and bankers) to see that the possibilities are realised. SDA is a small part of the social and affordable housing jigsaw and other solutions are needed. The market is failing as SIL service providers cannot find the participants to fill vacancies in their properties – the NDIA needs to provide data about people needing services and set up an SDA Registry. Two new websites referred to were “GoNest” and “The Housing Hub” where people can look for housing or flatmates. The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability and compliance with standards of the NDIS Quality and Safety Commission are an important barrier to entry, and necessary to protect outcomes for clients/participants.

The differentiation between aged care and disability markets are being broken down through the impact of technology and care worker demands. There is now a continuum between the two and the areas in common can hopefully lead to progress in both sectors.

According to the AFR, disability housing is predicted to be a $5 billion industry backed by the National Disability Insurance Scheme. With the introduction and implementation of the SDA funding model, the desire to construct houses for individuals with a disability is plentiful, however, the challenges accompanied with that desire have proven to be as equally extensive. The issue predominantly resides in the understanding and interpreting of the SDA funding model along with its guidelines. Organisations are currently striving to find ways to obtain funding, meet the guidelines and occupy their properties with eligible participants (only 52,000 in total with highest % being people with an ID). A lot of discussion over the 2 days was about how to mitigate the risks and elevate the interest in developing SDA, to meet the demand for housing from people with a disability.

Richard Coulson from Cox Architects gave some figures:

  • 450,000 people considered under NDIS

  • Approximately 28,000 with SDA needs (i.e. in inappropriate care), possibly up to 40,000 if categorisation is investigated further for under served clients

  • Of the 28-40,000 approximately 6-7000 are 25-65 year olds with high care needs

  • Of the 6-7000, maybe 1,500 would suit independent living and the remainder may more likely require shared living accommodation with the additional care associated with that.

Slide provided by Tony Rutherford from Mills Oakley

Slide provided by Tony Rutherford from Mills Oakley

There was discussion about the key findings of the Summer Foundation and KPMG SDA reports that were released in February and the changes announced by the Government. On 8 February, 2019 the Hon Paul Fletcher, Minister for Families and Social Services, announced ‘immediate reforms’ to Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) to improve choice and control for National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants and boost market confidence. (https://ministers.dss.gov.au/media-releases/4496)

The changes arise from an Australian Government review in 2018 of the SDA Pricing and Payments Framework. This summary provides background to the changes, what has changed now, and future changes to be brought in. The links to the reports are below:

https://www.summerfoundation.org.au/resources/summary-of-changes-to-specialist-disability-accommodation-framework/

https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/02_2019/sda-framework-review-08022019.pdf

Stephen Vick from Guardian Living spoke about their new build developments and the key steps being: funding, tenant selection and then assistance with moving in. He mentioned Summer Housing as the go-to model to follow. They chose the SIL partner, Connecto, early in the process and as early movers did work closely with the NDIS. The benchmark ROI for the developer is 9% (but needs to be at 12% given the risk premium in such a new market), with private equity seeking returns in the high teens. The bankers expect a 50% LVR to service the interest on the debt component – the properties are often valued at less than the cost to build them with all the special accessibility features. His conclusion was that the key to success was strong partnerships with good communication.

The conference participants also discussed a mixed model idea using SDA joint ventures with families providing equity and also a rent-to-buy scheme being considered by Endeavour. For social housing to work the land needs to be donated either by the Government, social impact bonds or by philanthropy. “Project Independence” in the ACT is a good example – developed by NDIA Director, Glenn Keys.

Charles Northcote (image below) from Blue CHP spoke about scale development in SDA. They have a project to build 69 houses with Compass and Homes for Life as partners in the Hunter region. The first house has just been built. Some of the difficulties during the past few years included: an initial financier pulled out, cost of winning a Government contract is high, finding clients is difficult, the project team must be excellent, finding land in the right place is hard and pricing changes in participants’ plans adds to the uncertainty in the projects. The 69 houses will accommodate 345 clients in 2/3 bed villas in a cluster design. He said there was no pathway through the maze and stressed the need to link the elements of demand and supply and that data from the NDIS was key to this. The current price guide ($25,000 per participant) does not reflect the hurdle ROI that investors need given the risk premium in such a new market.

Charles Northcote from Blue CHP

Charles Northcote from Blue CHP

Charles is a member of the NDIA SDA Reference Group, along with Mark Lawler from Achieve Australia and Melanie Southwell from SDA Alliance. The reference group has 10 people and was set up after the recommendation by the Disability Reform Council.

Melanie Southwell, General Manager of the SDA Alliance (image below) spoke about the aims of this new umbrella entity and also described “who’s who in the zoo” – a very helpful guide.

Melanie Southwell, General Manager of SDA Alliance

Melanie Southwell, General Manager of SDA Alliance

Professor Andrew Beer, Dean of Research and Innovation from the University of South Australia Business School spoke about his research findings on SDA. The Government needs to be more engaged, SDA is not viable for developers, there is a lack of certainty, information and known processes that are keeping players out of the market. Each development is nuanced by the many local regulations and variations in building codes. He concluded that people are being left homeless, layers of regulations are adding to the costs and the greater the costs the less that can be delivered.

Mark Edwards from Momentum Collective (image below) spoke about the need for an organisation to strategize and be clear about mission – know yourself so that you can collaborate with others. After SWOT analysis, partnering requires alignment in values and knowing each partner’s strengths and weaknesses.

Mark Edwards from Momentum Collective

Mark Edwards from Momentum Collective

Keelin Byrne from Hume Community Housing spoke about being committed to fulfilling the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) aim of enabling greater choice and control for people with disabilities through providing a collaborative, fair and transparent process to the tenancy and property management of Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA). Capitalising on their tenancy management experience of providing homes and service to more than 4,000 customers across New South Wales, Hume Housing’s SDA Program endeavours to work in partnership with new applicants, current customers, families, the Supported Independent Living (SIL) providers and other relevant supports to successfully fill vacancies, sustain tenancies and ensure positive outcomes for each household is achieved.

“Hume Housing understands the importance of effective and successful partnerships within the Community Housing Sector, especially focusing on finding a values-aligned developer who is investing for the long-term and willing to collaborate on developing a pipeline of properties that will respond to the demand data for SDA, but who is also willing to respond to an individual’s needs. Property partnerships are also imperative within the sector, especially by providing customers with opportunities around choice and independence, including long-term housing options, high quality support and high quality housing services. Having these supports available can lead to further opportunities for customers in employment, training and potentially home ownership”.

Teresa Dao