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Released 30 July 2010

In an effort to improve housing accessability and living standards for young families, the aged and the disabled, the Federal Government has launched voluntary building standards.

Leaders in the housing industry, disability sector and community groups have agreed to an aspirational target of 2020 for all new Australian houses to be built to Livable Housing Design standards.

The voluntary standards are the outcome of the National Dialogue on Universal Design, convened in 2009 by Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities Bill Shorten.

Features of Livable Housing Design

To comply with the guidelines, homes will include simple design features to improve access. They include: a safe pathway from street to door; at least one level entrance to the building; wider doorways and corridors to accommodate prams and wheelchairs; and at least one bathroom on ground level with a step-free shower and walls reinforced to support grab railings.

Private and public housing will be classified under a ratings system of Silver, Gold or Platinum, depending on how well they meet the standards. It is expected that up to 30,000 homes (or 20 per cent) will comply within three years.

Population trends

Between 1981 and 2003, the number of people living with a disability in Australia increased from 1.9 million to 3.9 million, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Due to the aging of the Australian population, the ABS estimates that number will continue to grow during the first half of the century.

Mr Shorten says that houses built under Livable Housing Design guidelines could be adapted to meet the changing needs of generations of residents over their lifetimes. “Families with young children, anyone who suffers a temporary injury, or has a friend with disability to stay the night, will also benefit from Livable Design,” he says.

“[They] are easier to live in, can be adapted more cheaply and will be easier to sell.”

Innovative partnership

The Gillard Government has committed to investing $1 million over four years to drive an “innovative partnership with leaders of the construction and property sectors” and promote Livable Housing.

Developing the guidelines was an excellent example of collaboration between the industry and the disability sector, says Property Council CEO Peter Verwer.

“Livable Housing has great potential for the future. It has low costs and huge returns both for homeowners and the broader community,” he says.