A new report on the Specialist Disability Accommodation shows the sector has stagnated since 2021, due to program restrictions that are creating barriers to investment.

And while Community Housing Providers (CHPs)are ideally placed to deliver this highly specialised accommodation, some are pausing their involvement due to the level of financial risk that is required. 

The SDA program is intended to give NDIS participants a level of choice in their housing options, balanced against the criteria used by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to make their funding decisions.

Despite an annual allocation of $700 million by the NDIA to the SDA program over a ten-year period, payments amounted to only $214 million in 2022. Investment has delivered housing for just over 18,200 NDIS participants nationally to December 2022, well short of the estimated 30,000 SDA placements required.

“Our research identified a lack of transparency and consistency in SDA funding decisions, and this has the potential to undermine both participant outcomes and the confidence of providers to deliver Specialist Disability Accommodation, report co-author, Dr Adam Crowe from Curtin University said.

“Funding decisions often contradict the clinical evidence provided by professionals as NDIS participants with similar housing needs can receive very different funding outcomes and although participants can appeal these decisions, it is a lengthy, costly and complex process.”

These inconsistencies also pose challenges for social housing providers, including CHPs, seeking to deliver housing solutions to meet NDIS participant needs. CHPs can also support private investment by educating investors providing compliance with the SDA program as a registered provider, identifying suitable tenants and providing tenancy management and support once housing is operational.

“Shouldering the financial risk associated with providing SDA until late in the development stage, coupled with delayed SDA payments, has substantial financial implications for the Community Housing sector in terms of managing debt finance, SDA portfolio growth, attracting new entrants and retaining current providers,” Crowe said.

Around 6 per cent of NDIS participating are eligible for SDA funding and many still rely on state and territory governments to deliver appropriate housing. The transfer of specialist accommodation provision from the states and territories to the federal government, under the NDIS, has reduced their capacity to provide specialised housing for those with high needs.  

As roles adopted by state and territory governments are not nationally uniform, together with constrained communication between the NDIA who fund the program, and the social housing sector, it is difficult for state and territory governments to develop disability and housing policy.

The research highlights how the SDA program should facilitate greater choice and control for participants so they can meet their home and living goals. To do this government must better harness the pivotal role of CHPs in the SDA program, particularly in regard to education, support, specialist tenancy management and the true cost of delivering and operating SDA.

The research was undertaken by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute with researchers from Curtin University and the University of New South Wales.

The report is available at: https://www.ahuri.edu.au/analysis/news/removing-barriers-providers-key-growing-specialist-disability-accommodation