About 177 people with disability are languishing in Western Australian public hospital beds while they wait for accommodation.
Not only does this come at enormous cost to the WA taxpayers (around $10 million a month), it also comes at significant personal cost to the people involved.
This situation extends across the country, with more than 1,500 people nationally in the same predicament.
As I’ve previously written, the solution to hospital discharge delays for people with disability is not just about cutting red tape at the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
The solution rests largely on ensuring the barriers to accessing appropriate housing are removed.
In WA, at least, we are now seeing promising signs of collaboration between the state and federal governments to address challenges associated with hospital discharge.
Across Australia, we already have part of the solution in the form of the NDIS-funded Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) program.
SDA uses the market to develop and operate specialist disability housing.
Effectively, a dwelling will be developed to a specific ‘design category’, which in turn suits the functional capacities of the people who will live in them; the federal government pays the rent based upon the NDIS participant’s plan (which accounts for it); while the amount of rent depends upon the type of accommodation and design category provided.
There are some significant teething issues, however.
SDA is limited to people at the extreme end of the disability spectrum, being intended to cater for only 6 per cent of NDIS participants.
This leaves the other 94 per cent at the mercy of the mainstream residential housing market and social-affordable housing programs.
Perhaps such an expanded scheme should not be the full responsibility of the federal government, but there is no reason why the state and federal governments couldn’t collaborate on such an expansion, which would, in turn, reduce pressure on state public housing and public hospitals.
The supply of SDA coming on stream isn’t aligning with actual demand.
This is being driven by a lack of reliable data for developers as well as by pricing, which has incentivised the market to prioritise certain categories of SDA design over others.
Promisingly, the federal government has recognised this, and a review of SDA pricing has recently been announced.
SDA is in its infancy, the market is relatively immature, and with some notable exceptions, many still fail to truly understand that the program is a public policy response to a social issue not a ‘property play’.
There are developers who sell it at the fringes of the property investment spectrum as the ‘safest property investment you can make’ when in fact what looks like lucrative returns are earned by the investor in the assumption of cost and risk at each stage of the lifecycle.
This is problematic. People with disability who need homes aren’t being catered for, and the investors aren’t going to get the returns they expect, which will lead to cynicism in the market and risks undermining the program.
Finally, state-based legislation, particularly in WA, does not yet recognise SDA on several fronts, whether in relation to property management, tenancy or land tax.
This legislation is making the SDA product more difficult than it needs to be to structure and implement, adding to the complexity and slowing market growth.
The initial rush into SDA accommodation has resulted in the market lurching towards the simple highest dollar outcome.
The SDA review should be undertaken thoroughly but quickly, with the government prioritising the implementation of its recommendations.
We need policy that facilitates an effective response to actual housing need for (all) people with disability and incentivises the right type of participation by the market.
We need providers who are willing to dive deeper into the detail of the demand, to develop product that matches the market and delivers highest and best-use outcomes for our property market and society.
We need banks willing to fund businesses to make the right investments and to spend time understanding what the risk really is. In this instance, developers and the banks are in receipt of federal government money: it is incumbent upon them to act with this social contract in mind.
We need state legislation to support these developments. For the people with disability languishing in our hospitals, we need this to happen sooner rather than later.
Thanks to disability, aged care and seniors living solicitor Andreas Geronimos for his contribution to this article.