A funding shift for Western Australians living with disability has given rise to a new asset class.
Michael Keenan may have retired from politics last year, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t making use of his previous portfolio experience.
The former human services minister has continued to devote his time to the disability sector, this time with a focus on property development.
Since then, he has helped assemble a team of 12 and a pipeline of purpose-built residential developments worth more than $50 million.
“The old model of disability housing [was] essentially, ‘Take what you can get and you’re lucky to have it’,” Mr Keenan told Business News.
“This is a new era of disability housing, underpinned by the advent of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
“It empowers the participant; it gives them the market power … to make a decision about where they’d like to live and how they want to live – alone or in a group.”
SDA refers to housing designed to support people with extreme functional impairment or very high support needs, as assessed through the NDIS, with eligible individuals funded directly for accommodation.
The Gillard government introduced the NDIS model in 2013 following an 18-month investigation by the Productivity Commission into the disability support sector.
Beginning with a trial phase, the NDIS has been progressively rolled out across Australia since 2016.
In February 2019, the Morrison government announced significant reforms to the disability accommodation space.
The reforms were aimed at halving the number of people under the age of 65 entering aged care by 2025, with stimulating private investment another driver.
The SDA model has been working in the eastern states for several years, but Mr Keenan said it was an embryonic market in Western Australia, which had been the last state to sign up to the NDIS.
“There’s never been anything like SDA in Australia prior to the NDIS,” he said.
“The federal government is very keen to build in a reasonable investment return because they want the private sector to come in and build these new homes.
“Sana Living has just been created to service this new market; we will develop, build and manage the properties.
“Our homes will be able to take the 450 Western Australians who inappropriately live in aged care and provide the high care that people need.
“A 25 year old should not be locked into aged care; nobody thinks that’s an appropriate place for them, but there just haven’t been alternatives.”
Sana Living recently completed its first project, a four-bedroom house in Dianella, which was designed by the business in-house following consultation with occupational therapists and disability service providers.
Mr Keenan said SDA had completely changed the playing field for disability housing from one of limited accommodation opportunities to an environment where it was commercially viable to purpose build new, high-quality homes.
“It sets a new standard for disability accommodation,” he said.
“All homes have the latest in assistive technology, including voice-activated doors, blinds and air-conditioning.
The ceiling is reinforced if people need a hoist for transfers between the bedroom and bathroom, for example.
“Our homes have generators, so if the power was to go out they can power the homes indefinitely, [which is] particularly important for people with really specific high-care needs like a ventilator.”
Sana Living has several developments under way, including three more four-bedroom properties in Morley, Parkwood, and Lynwood, which it expects will be completed in August.
The organisation has more than 15 residential developments planned for the metropolitan area and South West, including in Mandurah, Bunbury and Busselton.
These proposals offer a mix of three-bedroom homes, two-bedroom duplexes, one- and two-bed villas, and apartments.
“There’s an enormous amount of demand out there,” he said.
“It’s a completely new investment class; importantly, you’re building for a social purpose.
“I don’t think any other country is providing such significant choices of accommodation as we’re going to under the new SDA scheme.”