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Accessible and affordable housing

Policy and Information leader, Jonathan Tautari returns to talk about the importance of accessible and affordable housing and the cost of exclusion.

In recent years, the price of housing has become a real source of concern. For most of the 90’s and 00’s house prices increased faster than inflation. As a result housing ownership is declining and rents increasing. Household debt has also increased by an alarming amount.

Disabled people and their whānau face unique challenges when it comes to housing. Because of the barriers to employment, disabled people have, on average, lower incomes. Accessible houses are in short supply, especially in convenient locations. There is evidence of discrimination and prejudice towards disabled tenants.

Yet we know from our Article 19 research that house ownership can make a real difference for disabled people. In the research both Angela and Henk said that owning their own home gave them independence and more control over their lives. Henk said that owning his own home was his proudest achievement.

He also said that “I am lucky (to own a house). Most disabled people never have the chance.”

With an aging population, not only is the number of disabled people going to increase, but older disabled people are more likely to have a mobility need. Around 60% of disabled people over 65 have a mobility need verses around 43% of disabled people aged 15 to 65.

Making sure that accessible housing and infrastructure is available will ensure that everyone can continue to live, work and participate in their community. Disabled people are part of networks of whānau, friends and the wider community. They are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandmothers, grandfathers, brothers, sisters, employees, employers and volunteers.

The cost of excluding people from housing and infrastructure is very high for individuals, whānau and society. We know that some people live in community group homes and rest homes because of a lack of accessible housing. Last year the government spent $463 million on residential care for disabled people. An amount that is due to go up by around $14 million per year.

The inaccessibility of housing and infrastructure can also prevent people from getting and holding on to jobs. Last year the government spent $2 billion on supporting people on sickness and invalid benefits and  $9.5 billion was spent on superannuation.

Because housing is connected with so many aspects of a person’s life, such as health, employment, family life and education, the true cost is difficult to measure. What is certain is that over time, an investment in accessibility will be returned many times over.

In 2006, we founded Lifetime Design to promote accessible design. Unfortunately, people often neglect accessibility when building a home, only to find they need it when their or their whānau mobility needs change. Altering a home is often more expensive than building an accessible home from the start.

Accessibility also needs to be linked to affordability. With the rising demand for accessible homes, there is the risk that the limited accessible homes available will be priced out reach of many people and their whānau.

Where a home is located is another important piece of the puzzle. Living in central locations on transport routes and near services such as malls, supermarkets and other amenities ensure people can access the community. People with mobility needs are very dependent on accessible pedestrian routes and public transport.

Ensuring that housing and infrastructure is accessible and affordable is no easy task. The social and economic cost of not doing so, however, is ultimately too high.

How do you think we can ensure accessible and affordable housing is available?