Changing the mould of Robust housing

    Opinion piece by Trent Lines – CEO of Access 2 Place Housing

    Robust housing is a term many outside of the disability sector may not be familiar with. It is a type of Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA), built with extra strong, durable building materials and designed to create a safe and calming environment for people with high support needs.

    A robust property may be fitted out with special wall lining, soft impact flooring, soundproofing features and the use of calming colour palettes. These are all designed to withstand high impact use while reducing the risk of injury and creating a sensory environment that supports the individual.

    SDA, funded by the National Disability Scheme (NDIS), commenced in 2016 and the Robust housing constructed in the first five years was often poorly designed or located in a poor position. Or even worse, built as a group home where participants may be sharing with up to four other people they don’t know and haven’t been correctly matched with. Rather than increasing independence and supporting health and wellbeing, these housing solutions would often limit a person’s choice and control and even contribute to escalating behavioural issues.

    Unmet demand

    Over two years ago Access 2 Place Housing identified the need to establish a housing program that catered for NDIS participants who required SDA Robust housing.

    We were aware of an increasingly unmet demand in the community where participants with complex behaviours were not being offered choice and control with their housing arrangements. At A2P we have first-hand experience with tenants who were living in accommodation that was not fit-for-purpose. The housing presented to these participants under the block and state funded arrangements, was not focused on empowering the individuals with their independence and was ultimately reducing the quality of life for these people. 

    We were determined to change the mould and build a home that not only met or exceeded the SDA Robust regulations, but more importantly provided the future tenant with a home they were proud of and participated in selecting the location, design and selections.

    This focus on Robust homes is due to the understanding that less than 5% of all enrolled SDA dwellings in South Australia, are designed to Robust standards.  Representing a clear gap in meeting the needs the people requiring this type of housing. Further, Access 2 Place held no SDA robust homes across the 300-home portfolio.  A deficiency we are determined to fix.

    Access 2 Place is committed to designing and purpose-building homes that suit the individual and their circumstances, rather than a cookie-cutter, meet the minimum regulations approach. This process has been driven from listening to our most important stakeholder – the participants living in our homes!

    Our fundamental objective is to build homes for people. We do not simply want to build a house for someone to live in. We want to create a truly collaborative relationship, between the participant, their family, support team, building designer and builder that leads to a home someone will love and see themselves living in for a long time.

    Winning the lottery

    While our process may take longer, while the participant waits for the land to be purchased, plans to be drawn and approved, then for the home to be constructed – the result is the participant is able to live in the location they have chosen, in the house they have co-designed and selected the finishes.  It’s a process that’s very rewarding and extremely gratifying!

    We’ve learnt a lot over the last few years and take the learnings from each build to the next to do that one even better. Currently we have approved the capital funding to build the homes for seventeen individuals, who require SDA Robust built homes.

    While we are still on our journey, the results and feedback from the stakeholders involved so far has been overwhelmingly positive. Recently, the mother of our tenant told us that the home we built for her son exceeded her expectations and that it was like ‘winning the lottery’ for him.

    Access 2 Place remains focused on building contemporary, purpose-built homes for participants with the highest needs that allows them to live independently and comfortably. Our Robust housing program has the potential to significantly improve the lives of the participants and promote a more equitable community. It’s a goal we’re committed to, one home at the time.