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Removing barriers for providers key to growing Specialist Disability Accommodation

26 Mar 2024

The Specialist Disability Accommodation program, which delivers specialist housing support for Australians with extreme functional impairment or very high needs, is designed to attract private market investment; however program restrictions are creating a barrier to this investment. While Community Housing Providers are ideally placed to deliver this highly specialised accommodation, some are pausing their involvement due to the level of financial risk they are required to bear, according to new AHURI research.

The research, ‘Specialist Disability Accommodation in the social housing sector: policy and practice’, undertaken for AHURI by researchers from Curtin University and the University of New South Wales, explores the complex interaction between the Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) program and the social housing sector, including National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants’ experience of accessing these homes. 

The SDA program is designed as an individualised funding model, which attempts to give NDIS participants a level of choice in their housing options, balanced against the criteria used by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to make their funding decisions.

Despite an annual allocation of $700 million by the NDIA to the SDA program over a ten-year period, actual payments amounted to only $214 million in 2022. The program was anticipated to leverage an additional $5 billion in private market investment over that time, yet dwelling delivery has stagnated since 2021. Investment has delivered housing for just over 18,200 NDIS participants nationally to December 2022, well short of the estimated 30,000 SDA placements required.

‘Our research identified a lack of transparency and consistency in SDA funding decisions, and this has the potential to undermine both participant outcomes and the confidence of providers to deliver Specialist Disability Accommodation,’ says report co-author, Dr Adam Crowe of Curtin University. 

‘Funding decisions often contradict the clinical evidence provided by professionals; NDIS participants with similar housing needs can receive very different funding outcomes. Although NDIS participants can appeal these decisions, it is a lengthy, costly and complex process, which can result in negative health and wellbeing outcomes for people with disability.’

These inconsistencies also pose challenges for social housing providers, including Community Housing Providers (CHPs), seeking to deliver housing solutions to meet NDIS participants’ needs.

With extensive knowledge of the SDA program and social housing sector, CHPs are best positioned to produce quality housing outcomes for tenants with complex needs. CHPs can also support private investment by educating investors providing compliance with the SDA program as a registered provider, identifying suitable tenants and providing tenancy management and support once housing is operational. 

However, some CHPs are pausing their involvement in SDA housing due to the level of financial risk they are required to bear. 

‘Shouldering the financial risk associated with providing SDA until late in the development stage, coupled with delayed SDA payments, has substantial financial implications for the Community Housing sector in terms of managing debt finance, SDA portfolio growth, attracting new entrants and retaining current providers,’ says Dr Crowe.

As only very few NDIS participants (around 6%) are eligible for SDA funding, many still rely on state and territory governments to deliver appropriate housing. The transfer of specialist accommodation provision from the states and territories to the federal government (under the NDIS) has actually reduced their capacity to provide specialised housing for those with high needs.  

As roles adopted by state and territory governments are not nationally uniform, together with constrained communication between the NDIA (who fund the program) and the social housing sector, it is difficult for state and territory governments to develop disability and housing policy. 

The research highlights how the SDA program should facilitate greater choice and control for participants so they can meet their Home and Living goals. To do this government must better harness the pivotal role of Community Housing Providers in the SDA program, particularly in regard to education, support, specialist tenancy management and the true cost of delivering and operating SDA.

Read the research

Specialist Disability Accommodation in the social housing sector: Policy and practice

Cover image of AHURI Final Report 417