Building solutions for changing needs


New Zealand has struggled to deliver new builds that are accessible to all ages and abilities. Now, a research project is looking at ways to deliver affordable functional housing, particularly for older people.

THE NEW ZEALAND Building Code and standards do not cover disability functionality due to ageing in dwellings. This is despite New Zealand being an international leader in developing Lifemark, an accreditation tool that assesses new build designs for their functionality and accessibility.

Barriers to safe affordable housing

Research by CRESA in 2016 found that significant barriers exist to incorporating the most basic of accessibility desirables – level entry. These include the cost of solutions and inconsistencies in how proposals are treated by different building consent authorities (see BRANZ Report ER19).

Level entry is only one aspect of functionality. There are also concerns with older people’s ability to remain functioning and safe when their sensory or cognitive abilities may be compromised. It is critical for providers of affordable rentals for older people to access easily instituted solutions to dwelling performance and functionality ranging from heating to easy entry and exit.

This is more pronounced as multi-units and boarding house typologies become more attractive to housing providers looking to build affordable rental housing for older people.

Research looking for practical solutions

The Building Better Homes, Town and Cities National Science Challenge has funded a project to address this issue. The Building solutions for affordable, functional housing in ageing and changing communities project is a collaboration between CRESA, Massey University, Public Policy and Research, and BRANZ.

This research responds to the growing undersupply of affordable housing among older people, especially rentals. It is designed to support affordable housing providers, procurers, designers and builders by:

  • addressing the social and technical barriers to delivering affordable housing
  • meeting changing needs
  • delivering comfortable and functional homes across the life cycle for our ageing communities.

This research will identify, test and develop some solutions. Working with community housing providers, it is looking to work with building inspectorates to develop ways of reducing variations between them, focusing on level entry.

Three components of project

The project consists of three inter-related but distinct research components.

1 – Assess low-cost solutions

Component 1 will assess existing evidence for low-cost solutions that improve the functionality of dwellings for older persons (especially those with health issues that may affect sensory or cognitive acuity) and assess their applicability to New Zealand. The review of the evidence also hopes to offer culturally specific solutions that can help address issues specific to Māori.

2 – Create concept plans

Component 2 will produce concept plans for new-build and retrofit dwellings that are affordable to low-income renters, are financially viable for community housing providers and provide a sense of home. Component leader Dr Kay Saville-Smith will work with kaumātua housing providers and others throughout this process.

Design solutions and innovations developed by Māori housing providers are an important kete of learning, and in return, research will share and test new ideas and solutions to see if they can meet the needs of older Māori. This research component is also working with affordable housing providers Abbeyfield and Dwell looking at solutions that increase operating affordability and use land more effectively.

3 – Create, test and codify

Component 3 will create, test and codify a method to generate consensus between building consent authorities around affordable solutions for building components.

Level entry will be used as a case study to examine how consensus can be made in building inspectorate decision making. The findings from the case study will be codified in a set of guidelines so they can be applied in the context of other technical solutions.

Results available late 2019

The 1-year building solutions project kicked off in late 2018. The research recognises that our housing stock needs to be affordable and must deliver functional housing adaptable to the needs of housing providers into the future and flexible enough to be repurposed as demand changes.

Results from the research will include design solutions and a set of guidelines for using level-entry systems that will be available by November 2019.

Originally published in build magazine, issue 170, February 2019.

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Date posted: 11 March 2019