5 Customer Takeaways for the SDA Market

Todd highlight’s the necessary complexity of the SDA framework and outlines important considerations for developers and providers when evaluating properties.

By Todd Winther

Updated 15 Apr 202427 Apr 2021

Since the introduction of the NDIS, the housing market has changed rapidly, arguably more than any other area of policy within the scheme. This is primarily out of necessity. It takes time to buy suitable land, draft plans, navigate bureaucracy, build the dwelling, and outfit it. This process is required for any property, regardless of its purpose. The housing sector is one of the most regulated in the country. Add accessibility requirements and the living requirements of people with disabilities into the mix, and it makes an already complex process all the more complicated. It needs to be.

The Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) framework was always going to be a daunting process. It is an attempt to codify what should have been a fundamental right but instead was a blue-sky dream for people with disabilities: full participation in the housing market and, by extension, the wider community.

As with any housing market in its infancy, there will always be more information about sellers and tenancy providers. After all, they have to advertise their services to the buyers and tenants to attract interest; then, the buyers will provide more feedback as the sellers promote what they are offering. Over the last twelve months, that has begun to change as housing providers’ hard work starts to pay off. “Build it, and they will come” is now more than mere words to participants who are becoming active players in the housing market for the first time. 

As an SDA participant with high physical support needs who has moved from one property to another in the last 12 months, I have had rare experiences in the market. While It is important to recognise that every person with a disability has different wants, needs, and goals, participants’ experiences with SDA funding are essential in transitioning to a mature accessible housing market. 

Having access to the housing market is currently a privilege for people with disabilities, but it is slowly turning into a norm. When I decided to move from the supported accommodation that I was given in 2012 before the NDIS was implemented to different accommodation that I chose in 2020, it was a revelation. I never thought that I would have access to an opportunity that would allow me to move into a place I wanted, in a location I wanted, and a property that suited my unique preferences. Choice has always been a luxury for me. Along with the community's unconscious biases, I also had my own.

Here are some critical factors that all market members – developers, providers, and participants – all need to consider when evaluating SDA properties at any stage of their development.


1. People with disabilities now have long-overdue rights in the housing market

Imagine going into the real estate office and asking the agent if they had any properties available in the Brisbane area. Any prospective tenant or buyer asks this question. Before the introduction of the NDIS, a person with a disability would not receive a typical answer. The agent would tell that person that they would only have access to one property in one location, and they were forced to take it; otherwise, they could not access any properties of any description.

If you were a person with a disability, the state government was your agent, and these terms were non-negotiable. When I put the above conditions in this way, it is hard to believe that the process lasted well into the second decade of the 21st century. Finding accommodation for a person with a disability was autocratic. Imagine being told where to live without being consulted. Imagine being told that you would live with someone you have never previously met, whether you liked it or not. And imagine being told that you had no option but to let strangers into your house.

Unfortunately, that was the climate I faced as a person with a disability when I decided to move out of my parents’ house. I was given the above ultimatums in 2012. Though I was fortunate to end up in a place that met the majority of my needs at that time, I had never heard of my new suburb, it had unreliable public transport, and it was isolating, being located at the bottom of a nursing home. To access the local shopping centre, somebody would have to drive me, or I would have to give my support workers a list of groceries and other services that I needed them to obtain on my behalf. I had to sacrifice vital parts of my independence and relinquish choices that many people take for granted. 

Despite these limitations, I also want to stress that even though I wasn’t given a choice of where to live, I was articulate and savvy enough to know the benefits and limitations of my living arrangements. Others do not.


2. Housing providers must recognise the individuality of the consumer

Assuming that people with disabilities are a monolithic group of people is an outdated and incorrect stereotype. It is widely believed that all people with a disability are at the same stage of life, want the same things, get on well together, and share the same lifestyle. The truth is that every individual with a disability is as unique as any other individual. The only thing that people with disabilities have in common is having a disability or diagnosis. Even if we share the same diagnosis or condition, it can affect each individual differently, so of course, each person with a disability has a unique perspective. That may seem fundamental, but people without disabilities tend to share these common misconceptions without realising them.

 My experience is highly atypical. For one thing, I am married to a person that does not have a physical disability. That is extremely rare because society has taught everyone, including my wife and me, that people with disabilities should not be married. As a consequence, I was not only looking for a property that suited me but also one that fit my wife. Unfortunately, until very recently, the SDA framework assumed that all people with disabilities would not get married, have a family, or live with people who did not have a disability. That may be an excellent option to have for some people, but that certainly did not suit the needs of my wife or me.


3. Be specific in developing priorities for core support

When we were looking to move, the power to choose who would come into our home and when they would do so became the highest priority for my wife and me. 

In my former home, the service provider used an on-call system. If I needed help, I would press a buzzer, and one of two to six staff rostered on, depending on the time of day, would tend to me 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That had its advantages; it meant if there was an emergency or something I needed urgently, the support was always there. However, the disadvantage was that the service provider contracted to work within that property was responsible for hiring and training staff. I had very little input into that process. This meant that I could not control precisely who would enter my apartment because that would depend on the day of the week, the time of the shift, and who could work those hours. As is the case when dealing with any large group of people, you are always going to have people that you like, people that you can tolerate, and people that you cannot stand.

When you are disabled, you are expected to sacrifice your autonomy, no questions asked, in the name of “what is best for your welfare”. In most cases, that means forgoing privacy. I realise that I have a complex physical disability. I will never have absolute privacy, but that only makes me more determined to hold onto the little privacy I can access.

When looking at new accommodation, my wife and I had one priority: to find a method to receive the support that I needed without sacrificing the privacy and dignity to which we are entitled. Unfortunately, that is a difficult expectation to meet because I cannot always control when I need my support. I quickly concluded that I had to make a bargain. To get the privacy that we craved so much, we had to sacrifice the immediacy of support so that we would have more control over staffing. 

Under this new arrangement, the change in SIL funding is significant. Instead, more funding has been placed under the core support section of my NDIS plan to allow me to hire my staff using highly structured hours. This system provides my wife and me with quality control and greater autonomy.


4. Location, location, location

The other thing that was important to us when looking for a new place was the property's location. Like able-bodied people, we wanted to live in an ideal location to have easy access to the things that are important to us. We love our new place because it is so close to reliable and accessible public transport that it is on the right side of town and closer to most of our family. It is also close to the local supermarket and shopping centre. To maximise potential returns, housing providers should conduct extensive research before starting any new builds. If developers choose to build properties in an undesirable location, they risk leaving that property vacant, and the substantial investment required to achieve SDA compliance could leave developers vulnerable. Luckily, the Department of Social Services and the Summer Foundation have created the SDA Demand Map. Users can look up any postcode in Australia and find the number of providers and participants in that area. The map should be the first place that developers look when discussing any new SDA developments.

Before the development of the NDIS and the SDA framework, governments assumed that people with disabilities did not want to be active in the community. When I was a child growing up, I was in the first generation of children to be integrated into mainstream schooling. That was in 1990, just over 30 years ago. Before this point, the great majority of those with disabilities were placed in institutions and shut off from the rest of the world, unable to make decisions that affected their lives. Society is still learning how to consider the needs of people with disabilities. Conversely, we constantly have to navigate a world that is not designed for us, the great majority of homes included. The SDA framework is only the tip of the iceberg.


Todd Winther

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