Above: CEO of ACS NSW and ACT, Jill Pretty.
By Stephen Easton
Aged care and retirement peak bodies in NSW want whoever wins the upcoming state election to make it easier and cheaper for operators to build new facilities, and to recognise the essential role played by retirement villages and residential aged care facilities in providing affordable housing for older Australians.
It’s not easy to build good quality affordable housing – which is why the state government provides various incentives and subsidies to organisations that are registered as community housing providers.
To achieve this means meeting the requirements of a regulatory code under eight performance areas, the strictness of which depends on the number of properties managed by the provider, and hence the level of financial risk involved.
But according to Jill Pretty, CEO of the Aged and Community Services Association of NSW and the ACT (ACS NSW and ACT), retirement and residential aged care providers are unable to jump through these hoops, or even get a run at them.
“A lot of our members actually do set aside units in their facilities and retirement villages for financially disadvantaged people,” Ms Pretty said. “But a problem we’ve had is a lot of our members aren’t able to become community housing providers, because there’s no recognition that aged care is a type of housing for older people – so there are some barriers to accessing that funding.”
“What we want to see is residential aged care providers considered on a level playing field, and this also applies to retirement villages. There seems to be some distinction between what the state government considers a housing provider, and people who build accommodation servicing older people.”
“I think it’s a lack of understanding of what retirement villages and residential aged care providers actually do – for the NSW government, it’s always been commonwealth-funded initiative whereas community housing is a state-based initiative.”
Ms Pretty said the allocation of $5 million in state funds to the Benevolent Society’s Apartments for Life project in February this year was a positive step that had raised the profile of aged care providers as housing providers to older people. The funding grant was approved partly because 40 per cent of the apartments were earmarked as affordable housing.
Among their recommendations in seven policy areas, ACS NSW and ACT have also called for capital grants to upgrade and redevelop the state’s ageing Independent Living Units, which were built by non-profits over several decades, up until the late 1980s, as affordable housing for older people.
“They are now old stock, and also probably not appropriate to the needs of older people today but if we lose that stock it will impact quite severely on the amount of affordable accommodation that’s available to some older people,” Ms Pretty said.
In terms of the planning environment, ACS NSW and ACT and the NSW branch of the Retirement Village Association (RVA) are both calling for the essential accommodation provided by the sector to be recognised, through an easing of the financial and regulatory burden on their new development projects.
Both want the contributions levied by local councils under section 94 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act to be waived or significantly reduced for their members, and RVA regional manager for NSW and the ACT, Mark Eagleston, wants the government to remove the roadblocks to the construction of new retirement villages in NSW.
“RVA is seeking planning reform to enable much-needed construction of purpose-built housing for seniors,” Mr Eagleston said, “in order for the economic and social benefits that retirement villages provide that are very significant to local communities to continue.”
In their submissions sent to both major parties, RVA also wants a two-year exemption from land tax during construction, retirement villages to be listed as employment-generating developments to allow discounts on growth commission fees, and changes to planning laws to allow businesses within villages to serve the general public.