For the past 35 years, the NSW Government has helped accommodate the State’s growing seniors’ population through giving developers incentives to construct purpose-built independent living dwellings.

But there is some evidence that these incentives are no longer generating nearly enough seniors’ housing, precisely at the same time that more people are looking for these sorts of dwellings.

The incentives date back to 1982, when the government introduced a State environmental planning policy (SEPP) which allowed developers to over-ride local planning instruments, if they built homes for people aged over 55.

In 2004, the policy was reviewed and renamed the SEPP (Housing for Seniors and People with Disability) – but its overall intent to provide ready-made seniors accommodation remained.

The policy allows developers to build townhouse or villa style accommodation, on any land zoned for urban purposes (as long as the original block is larger than 1,000 square metres – roughly a quarter acre block). This means developers, under the policy, are able to build medium-density style development, in areas where normally only detached houses would be permitted.

The planning policy can also be used, subject to some extra hurdles, on farmland adjoining existing urban land or on registered club sites.

The policy also permits developers to build apartment-style seniors accommodation – known as vertical villages – of a size larger than what would be normally allowed in the council plan.

The new homes supported by the planning policy can only be occupied by people aged over 55, or people with a disability, through a caveat attached to the property title. The homes must also be located near, or accessible by regular public transport to, shops and medical facilities.

This is exactly the sort of accommodation that seniors are saying they are keen to find.

According to a 2014 Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) survey, the “dream downsizing home” is:

  • Smaller in size, along with having a more manageable yard, than the current home
  • Easy to access and to move around in, and preferably with only one level.
  • A lifestyle improvement, particularly in terms of good entertaining areas
  • Close to shops, health services and public transport
  • Located in an area which desired by the downsizers, often close to where they currently live
  • Something which delivers financial savings, as a result of discharging a mortgage or collecting capital gain
  • Alongside likeable neighbours

The Seniors Housing planning policy is meant to provide exactly this accommodation type.

Unfortunately, the policy appears to be producing a small number of dwellings – perhaps because there are now better and less complicated incentives available for developers under other planning instruments (such as general apartment buildings or boarding houses).

An analysis of the NSW Department of Planning’s Local Development Performance Monitoring report, shows that, in the most recent year that statistics are available (2014-15), only 161  development applications were determined under the seniors’ housing planning policy. Hawkesbury City Council had the highest number of applications determined, at 27.

Statistics are only available back to 2006-07, when councils across the State reported that 315 development applications were determined.


Number of Seniors Housing SEPP development applications determined




















Either way, the last ten years appear to have produced a miserably small number of seniors living applications. What’s more, it is concerning that less applications have been processed in recent years compared to the mid-2000s.

This is happening at a time when the State’s population is rapidly ageing. In fact, by 2021 it is predicted that all areas outside of Sydney will have more people aged over 65 than aged under 15.

The NSW Government is certainly upping its rate of general home building, particularly through rezoning large new precincts in the city’s fringe for detached homes and releasing precincts close to rail and other infrastructure corridors for apartment buildings. But downsizers have to compete for this housing with all other age groups.

Perhaps it is time to review the Seniors Housing SEPP to see whether it is still delivering the housing that is needed by seniors.