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 house that would meet his access needs.
The couple started their search in Hamilton, where they work, but soon found most houses had stairs which would require ramps to be installed, or that Flynn wouldn’t be able to get into the bathrooms because they were too small.
Luckily, the opportunity to build a house “just came about”, although it meant a switch from Hamilton to Ngāruawāhia, 20 minutes away.
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“I am able to build for my accessible needs,” said Flynn. “It’s much better than retrofitting an old house.”
Building a home has allowed Flynn to design it to meet his exact needs as a wheelchair user.
Some of the accessible features they have planned for include wider doorways, a level entry, rails in the bathroom and a shower seat. They’ve also been able to design two lowered bench tops with a space underneath in the kitchen.
However, the modifications have added to the build cost.
“Can’t put a figure on it, but there’s been quite an extra cost on us for the build.”
The couple say that the Government needs to do more to help disabled people find accessible housing.
“Our journey to trying to find Government support around funding for my accessible needs in our build was very tricky … the process to access the funding was quite slow, and it wasn’t going to work for us. What was considered an ‘urgent’ need would take up to three months.”
While grateful to be in a position to build his own home, Flynn wishes there were more options available to disabled people or those who require accessibility.
“Universal design needs to be more enforced because it benefits everybody, really. There are long-term benefits with more accessible homes,” he said.
Disabled people’s housing experiences are ‘grim’
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 disabled people were interviewed about their experiences.
The report described “a very grim picture of disabled people experiencing numerous and insurmountable barriers to housing, demeaning discrimination and human rights abuses”.
Many interviewees said they had limited choices in accessible housing and difficulties getting housing modifications.
“I love cooking, but I can’t cook at home because the stove is not accessible to the wall,” one interviewee said.
One research participant purchased a new build home, but had to pay additional costs themselves to retrofit accessibility features to make it safe for them to live in.
“I’m only hazard free because I paid for it,” said the interviewee.
The report concluded that interviewees’ housing stories were “overwhelmingly negative”.
Participants said the Government needed to update the Building Code to include private property and enforce stronger accessibility legislation.
“I think, one of the main things that the Government can do is again putting in the things like they’ve done with the insulation. Making sure that rentals are healthy. It’s not just for disabled people, that’s for everyone and also that the biggest impact they can make is with social housing … It should be one of their focuses to make them accessible and future-proof as well. Again, it’s not just good for disabled people, it’s actually good for everyone,” said one participant.
“I think we need to have accessibility in the building code for private houses … Every new build to be made accessible. So, to raise the housing stock. Particularly in Housing New Zealand,” said another interviewee.
Lifemark provides advice around making buildings accessible for people with disabilities.
The company has worked with a lot of large property developers over the years and its general manager, Geoff Penrose, said it doesn’t cost them any more “if right from the start they have in their mind and in their thought process that ‘we’re gonna build this to an accessible, universally designed standard’.”
Based on previous projects, Penrose said it was between 10 to 20 times more expensive to retrofit accessibility features into a home.
“Sure [accessibility] can be done later, but it is significantly more expensive.”
“There is some expense around bathrooms potentially, but the more you do the sort of wheel-in, wheel-out level-entry European-style bathrooms, the easier it gets in terms of the skills and the 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 was committed to improving accessibility across all forms of housing in New Zealand.
“Kāinga Ora also carries out modifications of its properties, working closely with tenants and their families to understand their accessibility needs, with almost 4000 homes throughout the country that have undergone such work.
“This could be anything from handrails or modified door latches to ramps, wet areas, lifts and widened doorways to vibrating and visual smoke alarms for members of the Deaf community.”