Cooke, D. ‘Calls for Housing to be Safer for the Elderly,’ The Age, July 2008, p. 6.

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A quarter of Victoria’s housing stock would be designed for the elderly or people with a disability by 2031 under a plan by the Victorian Council of Social Service.

The council is calling for changes to planning laws after what it said was a “failure” by the State Government to act on the housing needs of a rapidly ageing population.

Demographers predict that by 2021, 19 percent of the population will be over 65, up from 12.5 percent in 2001. By 2051, it is estimated that more than a quarter of Australians will be in that age group.

Under the VCOSS proposal, “universal housing” principles such as wide corridors, no-step entry and open-plan living areas would be incorporated into at least 25 percent of all housing. “Our argument is that when you’ve got a quarter of the population over the age of 65 and increasingly a larger group in the community who are mobility-impaired… you could save millions in hospital bed days just by having people live in spaces where they are less likely to fall over,” VCOSS chief executive Cath Smith said.

Universal housing would also benefit families with children, people with short-term injuries as well as the elderly, disabled and chronically ill, VCOSS said.

But the housing industry was against the move, saying it would inflate the cost of housing and put undue financial pressure on the majority of people to benefit a select few.

“We already have an affordability issue and I understand there are problems with going down that path, so to pass that burden on to the general community when it’s so specific for particular disabilities is a difficult issue,” the Housing Industry Association’s Victorian director, Robert Harding, said. “Those changes – while they may not look substantial – do result in a cost impost.”

Ms. Smith argued that any differences to building costs under universal housing standards would be negligible and could save the Government $70 million a year on aged care and hospital costs to treat the elderly.

She criticised the Government’s work on the issue since 2005, when it established the Accessible Housing Taskforce. “It’s just glacial speed,” she said. “Well it’s not even that, because glaciers move. The Government’s not even moving.”

A spokeswoman for Planning Minister Justin Madden said the Government was considering “regulatory and market-driven initiatives” to increase the amount of accessible housing in the state, but would not comment on specifics.

She pointed to a program under the Government’s social policy strategy, A Fairer Victoria, that pledged to create accessible housing in 20 percent of all new high-density apartment blocks.

But the Government document links the issue of universal housing solely to disability, a perception VCOSS hopes to change.

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