The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is proposed to be fully rolled-out in Western Australia by 2020. It aims to provide 'reasonable and necessary support' to Australians under the age of 65 years who have a permanent and significant disability.

One aspect of interest to developers and investors is the provision of Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) which is a form of capital funding for NDIS participants to acquire specialist housing solutions that address significant functional impairment, very high support needs, or both. SDA may range from a purpose-built apartment in a mixed development through to a modified free-standing house.

Who is entitled to SDA?

The NDIS acknowledges that those with disabilities have the same right as everyone else to determine their best interests, and to have choice and control over their lives. To this end, funding for SDA is made directly to eligible participants, and is based on what is reasonable and necessary for each participant. As a result, eligible participants can make their own decisions regarding entering into agreements with appropriate NDIS registered providers. Payments for SDA will be provided whether the eligible participant decides to construct, purchase or rent a dwelling, or already owns and lives in an SDA-eligible dwelling. This reflects the policy position that the market should ultimately determine the number and type of SDA to be made available.

What does this mean for developers?

Given the significant unmet demand for SDA, and also that private individuals and not-for-profit organisations may well need help from developers to finance and build the required number of dwellings within a reasonable time frame, developers can tap a potential source of additional funding and/or a broader target market by accommodating eligible SDA units in residential developments. This will help meet pre-sale commitments and get projects off the ground. For example, developers may construct SDA units within a residential development as part of arrangements with investors who may pre-purchase the SDA units and rent them to NDIS participants.

With this in mind, developers will need to ensure that their projects meet the requirements of the NDIS, such as registering as a SDA provider and enrolling the SDA dwelling (including obtaining written certification against SDA design standards.) SDA Rules also limit the number of residents living within a SDA dwelling, or the number of SDA participants on a parcel of land. This is to prevent the development of large residential centres or sites providing disability accommodation, as these have been shown to provide poorer quality outcomes and to contribute to community isolation.

'Universal design' and the NDIS

Even if developers do not participate in the NDIS, the Western Australian Department for Planning, Lands and Heritage is looking to 'universal design' to help ensure housing design provides ease of access and comfortable environments for occupants with special needs. The Draft Apartment Design Policy describes universal design as being ‘concerned with promoting space standards for housing that make them safer and easier to move around and live in. This assists occupants with special needs, such asthose with permanent or temporary disabilities.’[1] As an advertised draft policy it will be a relevant consideration for decision-making authorities when determining residential developments, in turn requiring developers to ensure that their proposals meet universal design objectives in order to obtain necessary approvals.

SDA funding is expected to eventually total $700 million per year. SDA provides an opportunity for developers to meet any requirement to address universal design, while also contributing to a significant government initiative which will expand the market for specialist housing.