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Australia Australia's housing affordability crisis is an even bigger challenge for young people with a disability

21:16  28 november  2021
21:16  28 november  2021 Source:   msn.com

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Australia's housing affordability crisis is being felt acutely by young people with a disability. (ABC News) © Provided by ABC Business Australia's housing affordability crisis is being felt acutely by young people with a disability. (ABC News)

It's no secret that the costs of purchasing a home have increased rapidly, particularly in the past year.

Recently described by NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet as one of the biggest challenges in a generation, many young people and first home buyers are finding themselves unable to break into a rising market, a problem being exacerbated by stagnate wages and increasing costs of living.

For young people with a disability, however, purchasing a home can be an even greater financial challenge, partly because the hidden costs of having a disability can make it much more difficult to save a deposit and pay off a mortgage.

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While having access to secure housing is important for all Australians, for people with disabilities it can significantly increase opportunities for community participation and quality of life.

Alecia Rathbone, the general manager of Summer Foundation's Housing Hub, says having a secure home can help people with a disability be more independent. "An accessible home increases your ability to be part of your community — to work, to study, to socialise with family and friends — while reducing your need for person-to-person support and the costs associated with that," she says.

It can also reduce reliance on short term rentals, which director of the Centre for Disability Research and Policy at Sydney University, Jennifer Smith-Merry, says is important because renting can "increase the degree to which people with a disability are vulnerable to abuse and neglect".

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Renters are also more likely to live in housing that damages their health, experts have warned — a problem likely to have repercussions for people with pre-existing health concerns.

Living with disability can be expensive

Crucially, having a disability can be expensive. The latest figures suggest at least 4.4 million people living in Australia (about 17.7 per cent of the population) have some form of disability. However, if all other factors — such as age, location and education level — remain constant, people with a disability have a lower standard of living, or "require higher income to maintain the same living standard as those without a disability".

A study published last year found that in the short term, "people with a disability need to increase their adult-equivalent disposable income by 50 per cent to achieve the same standard of living as those without a disability". In the long run, the average cost associated with disability was equivalent to 63 per cent of disposable income.

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With average house prices in Australia estimated to be more than six times greater than annual incomes — and eight times incomes in Sydney — diminished disposable income also significantly diminishes purchasing power.

According to Dr Michael Palmer, an economist at the University of Western Australia, people with disabilities are more likely to have health conditions that require specialised health care, rehabilitation and drugs.

Higher electricity costs including increased heating and cooling due to having limited mobility at home, specialised transportation and dietary requirements can add to this. Meanwhile, assistive devices like wheelchairs can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

And while some government support is available in Australia, it often doesn't cover all the costs associated with disability.

"Many people with disability also need to access therapies and supports which are not fully costed under either the NDIS or schemes such as the Medicare Better Access schemes," says Smith-Merry.

Having to choose between housing and healthcare

For me, these figures ring true. I have a musculoskeletal disorder which, according to the ABS, is the most common type of disability reported. While I am grateful to receive subsidised access to medication and several sessions of physiotherapy and exercise physiology each year through Medicare, I generally use these services on a weekly basis, so the vast majority is not covered.

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The cost of these services is one of my most significant expenses, accounting for 30-50 per cent of my weekly budget, often ahead of other "essentials" such as rent or food.

With house prices rapidly rising, I worry about how my inability to save and pay a mortgage now could affect my longer-term health and financial security. I also worry about what would happen if I found myself unable to work in the future: How would I cover my rent?

These costs can hit families particularly hard. Linda*, who requested her real name not be used to protect her family's privacy, says she struggles every day with the cost of essential services for her children, who have neurological disabilities and specific language disorder. The speech and occupational therapy they need costs more than $500 each month — and they are not eligible for any support under the NDIS, as they've been classified as having only "mild" disabilities.

Then there's the additional burden of getting to and from their appointments — an hour away from where Linda lives in regional NSW.

Although it has been recommended that Linda's children attend therapy weekly, she says the rising costs of living mean her family just "can't afford" it.

Tackling a big problem with inclusive solutions

So, what's being done to fix these problems? Tackling housing affordability issues appears to be a high priority for federal and state governments. The NSW Government, for instance, has identified housing affordability as one of the key "pillars" to be addressed in the state budget.

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However, in developing new initiatives, experts warn policy makers must consider ways to improve housing affordability for everyone — including people with disabilities.

For Jennifer Smith-Merry, one way of improving housing affordability for people with a disability would be through an employment strategy focusing on reducing under-employment and increasing wages. In Australia, people with a disability are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as those without one, and Australia's disability employment rate is far lower than other OECD countries.

"Our current strategy is not working very well because it looks to employers for action, but whether they act [to hire people with disabilities] or not is up to them," Smith-Merry says. "With high levels of stigma towards some people with disability, to really raise the level of disability employment the government may need to look towards things such as a Disability Job Guarantee and other forms of job creation programs."

Increasing the accessibility and range of subsidised disability services under schemes like the NDIS and Medicare would also likely reduce the cost of living with disability.

"Without strong financial support by governments, households with members with disabilities will continue to experience a lower standard of living compared to otherwise similar households without disability," says Michael Palmer.

More specific strategies to help people with disabilities purchase homes could also have a positive impact. For example, a disability home buyer guarantee, modelled off first home buyer schemes or the First Home Super Scheme — similar to a program that exists in Canada — could help people build up a deposit.

But while getting together a deposit can be "tricky", Smith-Merry says it's also important that people have "enough money" to pay their mortgage. And for too many, this will unfortunately remain unachievable until the prohibitive costs associated with having a disability are addressed.

"Stable housing is essential for physical security and for having a stable base so that people with disabilities can access the supports that they need to live the life that they want," she says.

The ABC is partnering with International Day of People with Disability to celebrate the 4.4 million Australians with disability.

Regions bucking property bust for now .
While Australia's property boom has suddenly cooled, the jury is out on whether regional markets will be as hard hit as the cities.Australian house price growth fell in December to 1.3 per cent - its slowest rate since January, according to CoreLogic's monthly index.

usr: 1
This is interesting!