Homes for Victorians

Homes for Victorians: Affordability access and choice.

Most of us are affected in some way by the spiralling cost of housing and accommodation across Melbourne. The media constantly run stories about the dramatic increase of people sleeping on the streets or in cars, and people renting face increasing costs and termination of leases as landlords cash in or sell to developers while first-time buyers struggle to put together a deposit.

We, therefore, welcome the release of the Victorian State Government’s Affordable Housing Strategy. It is high time someone took the lead on this pressing issue.

From the perspective of a provider that assists people with a disability there are two key points announced that are particularly welcome:

  • Making long-term leases a reality will give people greater security and an opportunity to plan their lives, and
  • Building and redeveloping social housing will help many people with a disability who are living at or below the poverty line.

Our housing support team regularly takes referrals from people with a disability whose lease has expired or are facing a change in their circumstances. Sometimes we are lucky and are able to source a property in a few weeks in other cases it may take months.

The Victorian government announcement will place pressure on the federal government to do something in this space. There are noises that there will be a statement that the costs are driven by the lack of housing and the solution will be to build more. However, a recent University of NSW study concluded there were around 83,000 properties vacant across Melbourne, many of these left deliberately empty. While under-supply is an issue, it is not the only factor driving up prices. Under the Victorian government plan, people who own a vacant property will be taxed.

The problem with making housing more affordable is that it becomes, by definition cheaper. Obviously, this will be unpalatable for those who have entered the market at inflated prices, and for those at the other end of the scale who are seeking to cash in and create a nest egg. However, a structured approach would be considerably more palatable than the inevitable crash that will be brought about through interest rates increases.

There is no easy (or cheap) solution. It is, however, good to see some action on this front at long last.

An Independent Streak

At age four Wayne started having uncontrollable seizures. Following a series of unsuccessful experiments with different medications to treat epilepsy, the doctors prepared Wayne for brain surgery. Wayne awoke from the operation with an acquired brain injury, and cerebral palsy.

Wayne is turning 30 soon, until recently he had been living at home with his Mum, Karen. However, Wayne’s and Karen’s life has now changed as Wayne has moved into his apartment in Ringwood. “I’m very excited and appreciative for Wayne to have had the opportunity to come into a facility like this,” says Karen.

The independent living apartment, managed by Independent Disability Services (IDS) opened on 16 August. The team at IDS offer personal and community support in line with each client’s needs. This dovetails perfectly with our goal of supporting people with disabilities to live the life that they want in a neighbourhood environment. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is providing funding for ongoing resident support.

Karen found out about the Ringwood place when a lady working at the DHHS showed her a flier. “It was just lucky that she saw it. We put our expression of interest in, and I just thought if we get it, then we get it and if we don’t, we don’t. And we got it! It is meant to be.”

There are six apartments in the complex: two downstairs and four upstairs. They have been designed with autonomy and community connection in mind. Wayne’s self-contained unit has a kitchen, bathroom, double bedroom, living/dining area and laundry. It is light and airy, and the sounds of magpies warbling from a nearby tree drift in. Wayne’s bedroom is a Rolling Stones shrine, with framed prints of the band and a Rolling Stones bedspread.

Downstairs, there is a common room for residents, Karen says “Would be ideal for celebrating Wayne’s birthday and other occasions”. There are plans to add a BBQ and veggie garden adjacent to the common area.

Unlike other supported accommodation options, which have curfews and rules about visitors, Wayne’s family and friends are free to visit anytime. All the apartments are spacious and self-contained, so disruption to other residents is minimal.

The unit is age-appropriate, the four upstairs residents are all around 30 years of age. A huge improvement in a world where young people with a disability often end up in housing more suited to the elderly. The location is excellent, close to numerous shops and cafes, the aquatic centre, Jubilee Park, and the Ringwood train station.

When I visited Wayne, it was a busy time at the apartment, nearing dinnertime and the arrival of his support workers. In the hallway, a builder stops to have a chat to Wayne. The parent of one of the residents says a quick hello to Karen (another tenant), as he helps his daughter move in. While the IDS Case Manager visits another client, a resident with multiple sclerosis walks to the mailbox to retrieve some letters.

As with any new project, there are some kinks that need ironing out. The microwave oven near the corner door opens the wrong way, rendering it inaccessible to Wayne in his wheelchair. The lights, curtains and heating are controlled by an iPad, but Wayne cannot read. The placement of the button that opens the automated front door to the complex, and also the one that opens the elevator door, is difficult to access for Wayne, who doesn’t have the full use of his right hand, so he has to wheel up backwards to press it. And there is a collision between the path of Wayne’s harness and the shower rail. These are small things, but small things can be big things when you’re Wayne, or Karen, watching Wayne and hoping things pan out.

The units at Ringwood are generating a lot of interest. The project is a prototype for independent living for people with a disability. Different groups have been going there to have a look at what is possible for supported accommodation. Private investment firms are considering supported accommodation like that at Ringwood as an ethical investment option.

I asked Karen what she is going to do with all of the free time she will have. It is a naive question – the transition to independence isn’t going to happen overnight. Karen has been looking after Wayne continuously since he was born, she embodies the concern facing a lot of parents of children with a disability, “It has always been my worry. When I die, what is going to happen?” But if there is any place where independence for both Wayne and Karen can be achieved, it is these units. “I’m hoping it will enrich his life and enable him to live independently,” says Karen. The team at IDS look forward to seeing how Wayne and his fellow residents progress.


Disability Housing Development Opens in Ringwood

Responding to a clear need in the community, Independent Disability Services (IDS) in partnership with EACH Housing opened an innovative, six unit apartment in Ringwood on 16 August. The apartments have been designed to enable people with a disability to live independently while sharing the support that they each require from IDS. The development has been designed and constructed to provide independence and community connection for its residents – basic human rights so often lacking in shared accommodation.

Supported by a grant from the Federal Government through the Supported Accommodation Innovation Fund with land and other funding provided by EACH, the development provides residents with their fully self-contained unit with a kitchen, bathroom, double bedroom, living/dining area and laundry. While the focus of the building is on independent, self-contained apartment living, it also has shared areas for socialisation with family, friends and other residents. Importantly, the units are designed to be homes,

“This new development places the residents in control of their physical living environment as well as all decisions regarding their day-to-day supports. So often people with significant disabilities simply have to ‘fit in with’ the available accommodation as well as existing support arrangements.”

Statistics show that not only are there close to 6,500 young people with disabilities living inappropriately in aged care facilities. There are over 80,000 ageing parents struggling with the constant worry about who will support and care for their children when they no longer can.

IDS and EACH are committed to providing living and support concepts that will enable people with disabilities to live an age-appropriate and independent lifestyle. Facilitated living design, such as is embedded in the Ringwood project, unlocks capabilities for independence not previously realised by individuals with a disability and creates new opportunities for community involvement. On the other hand, parents and other family members, who may have had to provide continuous care, can also explore new opportunities such as study, employment or recreation. This is a far cry from the experience of many ageing parents and people with disabilities currently.

The Ringwood project has been built on a model of independent yet cooperative living with the provision of supportive technology and carer support. This development incorporates environmentally sustainable design and the latest in supportive technology including automated doors to apartments and balconies and tablet technology for important operations such as controlling heating, blinds and lights, allowing residents greater mobility and careful design of bathrooms and other facilities to facilitate care and independence.

“Like myself, many young people with disabilities just want to live independently in a home of our own and get our lives back. I want to live in a safe environment and be able to make everyday decisions about my life,” notes Cara, one of the residents.

EACH Housing’s mission is to provide a genuine neighbourhood environment for people experiencing housing insecurity which ties in perfectly with IDS’ vision to ensure people with disabilities have the support they require to live the life they want.

Independent Disability Services housing opens in Richmond

Jed McCartney, CEO of IDS, launching the independent housing project in Ringwood.

“The team at IDS has been working closely with residents, their support networks and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). We have taken the time to understand the resident’s needs and their preferences so that we can ensure the support provided is tailored to their individual needs and enables them to achieve their goals. IDS appreciates the support of DHHS for funding the work required to coordinate supports for the residents. This has enabled IDS to maximise the use of clients’ funding by sharing supports where possible.” said Jed Macartney CEO, IDS.