Get to know your tenants and understand their needs

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Anna Fleming is a co-founder and director of Purposed Housing, a Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) provider. The Housing Hub caught up with Anna recently ahead of the official opening of Purposed Housing’s new development in Doncaster.

Anna has worked in the disability sector for 43 years. Over that time, Anna has been acutely aware of the shortage of housing for people with disability.

Anna’s organisation has been providing disability housing since 2007. She was delighted when the need for customised housing within the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was acknowledged and the SDA framework was developed. SDA has enabled Anna’s organisation to continue to develop housing for people with disability, really focus on what tenants want and to include tenants in the design of their new homes.

Anna Fleming (left) with SDA tenant Wendy

Purposed Housing’s new development in Doncaster includes 6 High Physical Support SDA apartments, a Medium Term Accommodation (MTA) apartment and 24-hour onsite support. While the journey from concept to completion has taken some time, Anna’s journey with the tenants has been considerably longer – Anna has known one of her tenants for 17 years.

“It’s critical that you get to know your tenants and understand their needs,” Anna says. “Many of the tenants here we’ve known prior to starting, so we’ve been able to customise their apartment to suit.”

“Some of our properties we codesign to suit – with tenants, families and support networks – to make a positive change to their life.”

Purposed Housing has built a range of different types of homes: apartments, townhouses, sole-occupancy homes, units and duplexes. The organisation is investing $30 million over the next 3 years in SDA.

Most of Purposed Housing’s developments are Robust category SDA properties in the east and south-east of Melbourne. Robust homes are designed to support people who sometimes act in ways that may not be safe, for themselves or the people around them.

A Robust home has walls, windows and other features that aren’t easily broken, as well as good sound-proofing, secure doors and windows and often a space where tenants or staff can go to keep safe. (This short video explains the different categories of SDA.)

The next property that Purposed Housing will complete is a Robust house in Warragul for a person with Robust SDA funding.

“That project has helped us to see a lots of gaps in the system because they don’t allow sole-occupancy homes,” Anna says.

Purposed Housing also has several projects underway in Cranbourne, as well as developments in Scoresby, Ferntree Gully, Dandenong, Berwick and Keysborough.

“For us, it’s about equal citizenship. We really believe in equal citizenship for everyone. We believe that living in the right environment for your needs can really change your life. What we’ve seen here proves that,” Anna says.

“We’ve also seen that at the Robust home we opened in 2019. We’ve seen people come off restrictive interventions. We’ve seen people come off chemical restraints. Environments are really, really important.”

Along the way, Anna and her team have had to overcome a number of hurdles.

“SDA is a new market,” Anna says. “There are a lot of holding costs involved for providers.”

“Working with builders and architects has been an education. Most have experience in aged care, but this isn’t aged care, it’s disability. It’s really important to make sure they understand the requirements in the SDA design standard. From architects, to builders, to trades – it’s been a big learning curve.”

Anna’s tips for SDA providers:

Be flexible – Things change, and the team needs to be flexible and adapt to the tenants’ needs.

Prepare for holding costs – Expect delays. A lot of prospective tenants are waiting for SDA in their plans, which is a big hold up.

Learn the NDIS language – A lot of people use the terms Fully Accessible (FA) and High Physical Support (HPS) interchangeably – when they’re not. Prospective tenants often don’t understand the difference between FA and HPS either. And that can be really difficult.

Get to know your tenants – Learn what your tenants’ needs are. Where possible, involve your tenants in the design of their new home.

“Everyone who’s come to live here has a story. We all have a story,” Anna says.


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