When Maurice Flynn and his partner were looking for a house to buy, it was a “long process”.
As a wheelchair user, he needed to find a home that would meet his access needs.
The couple began their search in Hamilton, where they work, but soon discovered that most houses had stairs that would require the installation of railings, or that Flynn could not get into bathrooms because they were too small.
Fortunately, the opportunity to build a house “just presented itself”, even if it meant a switch from Hamilton to Ngāruawāhia, 20 minutes away.
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“I’m able to build for my accessibility needs,” Flynn said. “It’s much better than renovating an old house.”
Building a house allowed Flynn to design it to meet his exact needs as a wheelchair user.
Some of the accessible features they have planned include wider doorways, level entry, rails in the bathroom, and a shower seat. They were also able to design two lowered worktops with space below in the kitchen.
However, the modifications increased the cost of construction.
“I can’t put a figure on that, but there was an additional cost for us to build.”
The couple say the government needs to do more to help people with disabilities find accessible housing.
“Our journey to try to find government support around funding my accessibility needs in our build was very tricky…the process to access funding was quite slow, and it wasn’t going to work for us. What was considered an “urgent” need could take up to three months.
While he’s grateful to be able to build his own home, Flynn wishes there were more options available for those with disabilities or those who require accessibility.
“Universal design needs to be applied more because it really benefits everyone. There are long-term benefits with more accessible homes,” he said.
Housing experiences for people with disabilities are ‘bleak’
On Friday, the Donald Beasley Institute released a report titled My Experiences My Rights: A Monitoring Report on Disabled Person’s Experience of Housing in Aotearoa New Zealand, in which 61 people with disabilities were interviewed about their experiences.
The report paints “a very bleak picture of people with disabilities facing numerous and insurmountable barriers to housing, degrading discrimination and human rights abuses”.
Many interviewees reported having a limited choice of accessible housing and difficulties in obtaining housing modifications.
“I love to cook, but I can’t cook at home because the stove is not accessible from the wall,” said one interviewee.
A research participant bought a new house, but had to pay additional costs himself to upgrade accessibility features to make his life safer.
“I’m free from all risk just because I paid for it,” the interviewee said.
The report concluded that respondents’ housing stories were “extremely negative”.
Participants said the government needs to update the Building Code to include private property and enforce stricter accessibility legislation.
“I think one of the main things the government can do is put things back the way they did with the insulation. Ensure rentals are sound. It’s not just for people with disabilities it’s for everyone and also the biggest impact they can have is with social housing… It should be one of their goals to make them accessible and also permanent. Again, it’s not just good for people with disabilities, it’s actually good for everyone,” said one participant.
“I think we need to have accessibility in the building code for private homes… Every new build needs to be made accessible. So to increase the housing stock. Especially in Housing New Zealand,” said another interviewee.
Lifemark provides guidance on making buildings accessible to people with disabilities.
The company has worked with many large property developers over the years and its managing director, Geoff Penrose, said it doesn’t cost them more “if from the outset they have it in their minds and in their thought process that ‘we “I’m going to build this to an accessible, universally designed standard.”
Based on past projects, Penrose said it’s between 10 and 20 times more expensive to upgrade accessibility features in a home.
“Sure [accessibility]can be done later, but it’s much more expensive.
“There are potentially expenses around bathrooms, but the more you do the kind of entry-level European-style bathrooms, the easier it becomes in terms of the skills and techniques you need to bring to deliver them. “
In response to the need for more accessible housing, a spokesperson for Housing Minister Megan Woods said the government is committed to improving accessibility in all forms of housing in New Zealand.
“Kāinga Ora is also carrying out alterations to its properties, working closely with tenants and their families to understand their accessibility needs, with nearly 4,000 homes across the country having undergone such alterations.
“It could be anything from modified handrails or door latches to ramps, wet areas, elevators and widened doorways to vibrating and visual smoke alarms for members of the deaf community.”