Vassarotti calls for inclusive changes to building standards 

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Construction Minister Rebecca Vassarotti… “Housing is a fundamental human right and accessible, affordable and sustainable housing is what our community needs to thrive.” Photo: Holly Treadaway.

WHEN the building ministers from each state and territory come together for an upcoming meeting, ACT Construction Minister Rebecca Vassarotti plans to call for mandatory accessibility standards in the “National Construction Code”.

Her calls come two days after “CityNews” reported that the current housing wait times for people with a disability are about three years.

Ms Vassarotti says she wants to ensure every new residential building is built to meet accessibility standards, so that all future homes, townhouses and apartments meet a threshold level of universal design across Australia.

“Imagine a world where every home is accessible or more easily adaptable for most people regardless of age, disability, background or other factors. That’s what universal design is about and it’s how we plan to build a better normal in Canberra homes,” Ms Vassarotti said.

“The standards will require simple features such as doors wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and step free access, a bathroom on the ground floor and structural reinforcements to allow for the installation of supports like grip rails if they are needed in the future.”

In the parliamentary and governing agreement between ACT Labor and the Greens, both parties have committed to all new homes being be built to universal standards, Ms Vassarotti said.

“So if the changes to the national construction code are not agreed to by all building ministers, I will commence work to introduce standards for the ACT,” she said.

“Housing is a fundamental human right and accessible, affordable and sustainable housing is what our community needs to thrive.

“Universal design has been standard in other countries like the United Kingdom, which first introduced basic accessibility requirements to its residential building regulations in 1999. It is about time Australia’s national construction code followed suit to provide this accessibility more broadly.”

Ms Vassarotti highlighted that only 5-10 per cent of new homes in Australia are being built to accessibility standards.

And 73.6 per cent of respondents in a 2020 report by the University of Melbourne said they were living in housing that does not, or only partially, meets their needs.

“The building industry needs to be supported to meet the new standards with reasonable timeframes for implementation, but we do need industry to now fully commit to building homes that meet the needs of our community,” she said.

“These proposed changes will add about 1 per cent to the average construction cost of new homes but would save thousands of dollars in expensive retrofitting to homes in the future. Above all, they will mean that people are not forced out of their homes because they cannot be adapted to their needs.”

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