Benefit not Tax

A more holistic and pragmatic response to access laws needs to be encouraged to achieve the desired result of a more inclusive society and community.

Developers of the built environment need to be rewarded for taking the sometimes costly responsibility of creating accessible spaces, so that the development of these spaces is not seen as a “disability tax” but rather an “inclusion reward.”

An example of the inconsistency of the current situation rests so obviously with the requirement for a property developer to build accessible apartments within a residential complex, yet there is no need for that apartment to be sold to someone with accessibility requirements. So for the developer it’s just a tax with no future community benefit. That gap between legislation and market needs to be filled. Perhaps those apartments should have a designation such as the over 55 housing does for example, to ensure that the apartment created for people with accessibility needs is forever limited for sale to that group.

And acknowledgement that the developer is fulfilling a civil duty, catering for people with access needs, ought to be provided in a legitimate way – through additional FSR or similar so that the development of lived spaces for all does not become the burden of anyone.

This is not a stretch – nor should it be seen as revolutionary or difficult to achieve. It is, in fact, a simple extension of all the good research and work that’s been done over the past 2 decades.

We know the percentage of people in our community who have access requirements. We know who they are – we live with them already – the elderly, people with disabilities, parents with double strollers and so on.

We already see and respect signs for specific needs – disability signs for parking bays, bigger units properly fitted out for access requirements, accessible toilets in public, ramps and lifts. This is not groundbreaking.

And our access framework already provides for ratios to be observed – numbers of accessible and ambulant toilets per regular toilets, number of accessible parking bays per regular parking bays, number of spaces at the theatre or sports arenas for wheel-chair users, etc.

Well what’s the point of creating accessible apartments for example if once they are built there is no requirement to sell them to the very people for whom the law says you must build them? And on top of that, building those accessible units is more expensive for the developer- creating the negative connotation that accessibility is just a disability tax.

We need to make simple changes so that the connotation changes from tax to benefit.

Let’s work out the ratios not only for some accessibility issues, but rather for all.

We already know that an accessible car space in public may only be used by a person designated as needing an accessible spot. Yet an accessible car space sold within a property development, likely attached to an accessible apartment, has no restrictions on ownership or use. So why bother building it? The intended sector of the community for whom it was built does not benefit. And the developer has simply been slugged for the extra development cost – a negative for all.

Let’s turn to potential benefit instead, and away from tax.

We know our community demographic. We already allow for it in our design. We are required to follow universal design principals, we live with the existence of the Disability Discrimination Act, and all forecasts are for greater accessibility needs by 2050 and beyond (as we all live longer etc).

It does not have to be rocket science. Whatever the agreed ratio is, let’s enact it all the way – not just part of the way as it is now.

If it is agreed for example, that based on the number of people with accessibility issues that could live independently is say 5% of the population, then let’s translate that into a residential development for the exercise.

The build is for 100 apartments.

It is assumed that 5% of the apartments need to be accessible based on the accessible needs of the population . (One might go further and suggest that all those accessible apartments must be 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms to allow for a future carer).

That means 5 apartments need to be accessible – designed, classified, and forever only sold as such.

Based on research and expert opinion, it is established that the additional cost to the developer and perhaps the reduction in sale price to a more limited market, equates to 20% of those 5 apartments.

The accessible apartments are necessarily bigger and therefore this exercise needs to swing to a calculation based on square meters.

We say that the average 2 bedroom apartment is 100sqm for example.

We say that an accessible apartment is say 20% bigger.

So the 5 apartments created for people with accessibility needs = 600sqm.

The assumption outlined above is that the additional cost of development, and the loss in revenue, equates to 20%.

Based on decades of development valuation and feasibility percentages, it is assumed that a developer’s profit is in fact 20%. As such the developer has now created the accessibility apartments , and taken all the development risk to do so, without commercial reward. This is both unfair and unbankable.

And so this is where fairness and pragmatism comes forward, and a law is created that gives the developer, who is already required to deliver accessible housing a benefit of doing so rather than a burden. The law should be that the developer is given an equal amount of additional FSR (600sqm) to develop so as to recover that 20% margin.

This gives truth and application to well intended principals and laws regarding accessibility in a way that is fair and community spirited.

  • It benefits the developer (the risk taker).
  • It benefits people with accessibility requirements.
  • It benefits the community at large as more accessibility housing is developed for expected future demand.
  • It provides more options for stay at home care.
  • Community care through appropriate accessible housing is delivered via the market rather than the government purse.
  • It fosters inclusive community.

Let’s move from tax to benefit.

Source: Greg Fisher

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