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Don’t overlook accessibility when planning social housing

A failure to plan, design and build accessible, affordable homes will make the housing crisis worse in future, says Sheron Carter.

In August, we housing providers eagerly downloaded our copy of this summer’s social housing green paper to learn how provision of accessible homes would be part of the new deal for housing.

While we remain supportive of the stated commitment to the provision of safe, good-quality and affordable homes, accessible housing didn’t register in the green paper. Yet the lack of accessible homes is part of the housing crisis.

As experts in the provision 
of accessible environments, we recognise the need for accessible homes as a core consideration.

"If new, affordable homes are not planned and designed to be accessible, in less than a decade we will potentially be looking at a different sort of crisis."

When sector and government colleagues look at the more than one million people waiting for homes nationally, some are overlooking crucial data: on average, one in five people is disabled and more people will become disabled as they grow older.

With age can come conditions like dementia, but also certain types of cancer and degenerative conditions. When Habinteg examined the hidden housing market, our research indicated that 59 per cent of people aged 65 and over will need accessible housing features by 2021. That’s three years from now.

Local plans are being put in place by local authorities to meet housing demand. Social housing providers are updating their stock. Private investors and developers are breaking ground on new schemes. As we’re all working hard to tackle the crisis, why not acknowledge the obvious challenge?

If new, affordable homes are not planned and designed to be accessible, in less than a decade we will potentially be looking at a different sort of crisis. This is being evidenced by reported strains on the NHS. Older people are remaining in hospital when accessible features at home would allow them to be discharged.

As Britain’s ageing population reaches critical mass, people with mobility and healthcare concerns are likely to need to move from their home or be limited to managing accommodation that will no longer be suitable for them.

This doesn’t need to be the scenario for the majority of people who will need future homes to be accessible. Collaborative working can yield positive results if we take the opportunity now to plan, design and build truly accessible (and wheelchair accessible) housing.

Affordable homes are absolutely the way forward for social housing. But building homes that are structurally inadequate represents a false economy.

Planning communities that are 100 per cent accessible makes homes fit for the future.

Sheron Carter is chief executive of Habinteg Housing


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