The National Disability Insurance Scheme (“NDIS”) was rolled out nationally in 2016, which included the introduction of Specialist Disability Accommodation (“SDA”) funding. Under the scheme, eligible NDIS participants receive funding support to obtain housing, which enables greater independence and facilitates the delivery of support services. Support services are separately funded to enable participants to pursue their goals and live safely in their homes. Eligibility for SDA is based on participants having an extreme functional impairment or very high support needs.
Traditionally, disability accommodation has been delivered by State and Territory governments with many older style properties in large group settings. This limited the empowerment of people with disabilities by reducing flexibility in choosing where, when, and how they receive supports. Under the NDIS, participants receive individualised funding that is portable (allowing tenants to move from one property to another similar one) and can be used in a way that is best for their unique needs. This gives participants the power to choose and control what type of housing and supports they receive.
Through the NDIS, most government services have been transferred to the private and not-for-profit sectors, further developing the disability services marketplace. With this growth in the private and not-for-profit sectors, focus has shifted to ensuring competitive, best-in-class service delivery with improvements in quality, efficiency, and choice.
Specialist Disability Accommodation
SDA is anticipated to support 28,000 Australians once fully operational, equating to $700M in total annual payments. A 2017 report by PwC and Summer Foundation noted that “more than $5B in capital would be needed over the next five years alone to create new housing stock in SDA. In total, SDA housing stock is expected to be worth $10-12B.”
Five years on, just $231M has been approved to fund annualised SDA supports;  representing a significant shortfall in appropriate housing and funding allocations. The maturity of the market has been impacted by COVID-19, however, the slow growth of the sector can be at least partially attributed to the complexity of the NDIS.
SDA demonstrates the need to successfully manage collaboration when investing in impact. With different skills such as design and construction, financing, asset management, and support services, SDA draws on the unique and specific expertise of multiple sectors and many different collaborators. Together they aim to deliver an appropriate housing response that meets the needs of participants and ensures NDIS funding.
In an increasingly competitive market, this cross-sector approach appreciates the intricacy of the NDIS and pairs innovative thinking with true partnership to create sustainable, long-term tenure in SDA dwellings.
To meet the demand for housing and services that maximise choice for participants, collaboration across the sector is required. Bringing together disability-specific and mainstream expertise has been one of the drivers in maximising the scheme’s impact. At Conscious Investment Management (“CIM”), we acknowledge the skills and experience of the providers in the sector. Partnering based on a shared vision and the desire to achieve social and environmental impact, while also generating market returns, CIM collaborates with organisations that we call our ‘Impact Partners’ – sophisticated sector operators who require capital to grow, expand their reach, and further their mission.
CIM aims to complement the skills and experience of our Impact Partners and has built a team with unique operational experience in the areas we invest. With backgrounds in finance and not-for-profit management, CIM has deep industry expertise to support investment decision making and management of assets.
Our partnerships are structured to encourage experience and knowledge sharing. This maximises the social and environmental impact of our investments, as well as providing for the responsible and responsive management of assets. In a challenging space like SDA, where participants choose an SDA dwelling to release NDIS funding for that property, it is crucial to understand the specific needs of the SDA participant. The design of the NDIS model rightly puts the participant at the centre of all decision making and challenges the sector to deliver housing solutions that go beyond simply complying with the SDA Design Standard.
Our understanding of the sector and the ability to collaborate on solutions demonstrates a synergy in thinking between project stakeholders. We work to deliver a coordinated approach to portfolio management that responds to the needs of the day, rather than focusing only on short-term returns, which may be disconnected to the demand for the product. We believe this creates long-term stability for our portfolio by minimising vacancy risk, while also ensuring social value to our Impact Partners and, most importantly, the participants seeking housing.
Partnering for impact
Within SDA, CIM is fortunate to partner with Summer Housing, one of the leading providers of disability accommodation in Australia. Their mission is to expand the range and scale of diverse housing options available for people with disability living in, or at risk of admission to, residential aged care – particularly younger people.
Together, CIM and Summer Housing have commissioned 84 SDA dwellings. Melinda van der Westhuizen, CEO of Summer Housing says, “We highly value the collaborative partnership between CIM and Summer Housing… The outcomes of the partnership between CIM and Summer Housing evidence the strengths of both organisations as we utilise a person-centred approach to every project, from design through to tenancy management and innovate together on new models of housing that are attractive to our tenants.”
“The impact is measurable over time as everyday living is transformed through community connection, with access to supports and the realisation that what was once impossible becomes ‘what’s possible today?’ in the lives of our tenants.”
By working together, CIM and Summer Housing have delivered high quality homes, allowing people with significant disability to live independently and as part of the community. CIM has funded projects in underserved design categories to meet the high demand for these dwellings. Further, by investing in the safety of participants through particular attention to dwelling design and operations, the SDA apartments funded by CIM have become highly sought after. By working closely alongside our partners, CIM has gained greater insight into the most successful SDA models and opportunities, informing the focus of our investment strategy and process.
 PwC and Summer Foundation, 2017. NDIS Specialist Disability Accommodation: Pathway to a mature market. [online] p.11. Available at: < https://www.pwc.com.au/pdf/ndis-specialist-disability-accommodation-aug17-v3.pdf > [Accessed 14 March 2022].
 National Disability Insurance Scheme, 2022. Report to disability ministers for Q2 of Y9 Appendices. Appendix P: Specialist Disability Accommodation. [online] Available at: <https://www.ndis.gov.au/media/4083/download?attachment> [Accessed 14 March 2022].