Livable homes. Achievable goal?

The new national NFP, Livable Homes Australia, has finally been launched. Created with federal government support and funding, the organisation is set to promote universal design standards and convince the industry of their value.

Above: Floor image plan of the Livable Housing Design’s Silver’ level

By Yasmin Noone

The new non-profit but government-backed organisation, Livable Housing Australia (LHA), has finally been launched after more than a year of talk about plans for the new body to promote universal design standards, nationwide.

Established as part of the federal government’s $1 million commitment to promote universal design standards, announced in 2011, the new organisation will help make community-dwelling a more viable option for more people.

LHA will attempt to do this by persuading all builders, architects and aged care providers to build and design new homes according to a minimum standard of age-friendly design over the next seven years.

The one-month old organisation has therefore also launched a new nation-wide campaign to ensure that all new homes meet livable housing design guidelines and become safer, more comfortable, easier to get around, and cheap to adapt.

The campaign will target the housing industry to achieve the ‘Livable Housing Design Quality Mark’ and work with industry leaders to adopt seven critical age-friendly design features.

LHA’s chair, Peter Verwer, said livable home guidelines enable people to stay in their adaptable homes for longer as they age.

“Livable homes work for pregnant mums, young families with kids, as well and those with disability and Australians with sporting or traumatic injuries,” Mr Verwer said.

“‘Livability’ also caters for the needs of an ageing society by promoting homes better suited to seniors.”

Included in the livable housing list of features are front doors that are wheelchair accessible; living spaces that are safer to move around in; a step-free shower; a handrail for stairs; a toilet on the ground floor; and more.

They are based on minimum core design elements that include wider doors and passageways, ground-floor toilet and bathroom facilities, wheelchair access and strengthened walls to allow the future installation of grabrails.

Homes which achieve the checklist of specific livable housing features – varying according to three different performance ratings – will earn the newly launched ‘Livable Housing Design Quality Mark’.

The ratings – Silver, Gold and Platinum – will be awarded to housing that meets the required enhanced standards. The higher the rating option, the greater the cost of employing the design features or the more space that is required to meet the set standard.

Mr Vermer said he believes the mark is set to become a trusted measure of livability for consumers and the housing industry.

“The LHA’s Silver, Gold and Platinum performance ratings are based on practical, common sense guidelines to livability.

“The features contained in the guidelines are inexpensive to incorporate into new-build dwellings and will deliver huge dividends as well as peace of mind to future generations of Australians.

“It makes sense to commit to livability features when a home is first designed and built rather than wait for an unplanned need to arise.”

LHA’s long-term goal is to persuade the housing market to incorporate silver level livability features in all homes by 2020.

Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, Queensland Senator Jan McLucas, announced the establishment of Livable Housing Australia in early April-2011 to “promote greater understanding of the value of universal housing design within the community and promote universal housing design practices throughout the residential building and property industry”.

The standards were developed in 2010 by participants in the National Dialogue on Universal Housing Design, set up in late 2009 by the former Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, Bill Shorten.

National Dialogue participants included the Local Government Association, Human Rights Commission and consumer advocacy group COTA Senior’s Voice, alongside stakeholders from the building and property industries and disability care sector, such as owners of retirement living and aged are assets, Stockland and Lend Lease.

Safety and security first

LHA executive director, Amelia Starr, was hired late-last year. Having spoken about the need for industry adoption of the livable guidelines several times since, Ms Starr believes more livable homes will help create a safer society.

She said more livable homes will help to reduce injury rates and public health costs as the  family home accounts for 62 percent of all falls and slip-based injuries, and $1.8 billion in public health expenses.

“We design and build for what we call a ‘Peter Pan’ population – homes for the fit and well, the here and now,” Ms Starr said.

“Livable design seeks to embed the idea that, just like life, our homes should be future-proofed so that they can better meet our needs and abilities both now and in the future.”

The LHA’s seven core livable housing design elements focus on the key structural and spatial elements that are critical to ensure future flexibility and adaptability of the home.

“Incorporating these features will avoid more costly home modification if required at a later date.

“Common sense and international research indicate it’s 22 times more efficient to design the house for change than retrofit it when an unforeseen necessity arises.”

National Patron for the LHA, Therese Rein, said she was inspired by the experiences of her father to support the LHA campaign.

“I grew up with my dad in a wheelchair and I know what a difference Livable Housing would have made to him, and to us as a family,” Ms Rein said about her father who lost the use of his legs after a flying accident in World War Two.

“That’s why I wholeheartedly support Livable Housing Australia; so that every Australian can occupy a home that feels like home.”

Tags: agefriendly, amelia-starr, design, lha, livable, livable-housing-design-quality-mark, universal,

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