A NSW Government website

Seniors housing

Seniors housing is designed to meet the needs of seniors and people with disability.

Seniors housing includes:

  • Residential care facilities – sometimes also known as nursing homes or aged care homes. Residents receive full-time care.
  • Independent living units – apartments or villas for seniors and people with disability. Residents can live independently.
  • Hostels – includes single or shared residential accommodation staffed by support workers.

The planning provisions for seniors housing were transferred from the State Environmental Planning Policy (Housing for Seniors or People with a Disability) 2004 (Seniors SEPP) (now repealed), to the State Environmental Planning Policy (Housing) 2021 (Housing SEPP).

Planning rules for seniors housing

The Housing SEPP made changes to planning rules for seniors housing. It ensures that seniors housing meets industry standards and community expectations.

The key changes for seniors housing include:

  • a new list of areas where seniors housing is permitted
  • removed the site compatibility certificate process
  • bonus floor space incentives to encourage seniors housing developments in higher density areas. Incentives are between 15% and 25% bonus floor space
  • the seniors housing age now starts at 60 in line with the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Regulation 1994
  • a reduction in the landscaped area requirements for residential care facilities from 25sqm to 15sqm per bed
  • new internal and external communal space requirements, including at least 10sqm per bed for residential care facilities
  • an updated list of environmentally sensitive land where developers cannot build seniors housing
  • a new State Significant Development pathway for seniors housing. For projects worth at least $30 million (or $20 million outside Greater Sydney).
  • as part of a package of amendments made on 1 July 2022, seniors housing can now be developed by any person in the R2 Low Density Residential zone. This was previously restricted to the NSW Land and Housing Corporation and operators under the Retirement Villages Act 1999.

The department maintains a Bush Fire Evacuation Risk map. This shows the areas where seniors housing cannot be delivered in the Ku-ring-gai area. Changes to the map must consider:

  • age groups of the existing population
  • local health facilities and schools
  • recommendations from the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Download a copy of the Bushfire Evacuation Risk Area map (PDF, 944 KB).

Review of planning provisions for seniors housing

The department is currently reviewing:

  • the definition of, and standards for, hostels
  • the accessibility and usability standards for independent living units.

An Explanation of Intended Effect (EIE), setting out the proposed changes to these provisions was exhibited from Tuesday 22 November 2022 until Friday 13 January 2023.

Learn more about this review on the NSW Planning Portal.

Review of design guidance for seniors housing

We have prepared a draft Seniors Housing Design Guide to help inform design and assessment of seniors housing proposals.

The latest draft of this guide was exhibited with the EIE mentioned above. The guide will be finalised as part of the review of seniors housing provisions.

Frequently asked questions

What if I have an existing DA or site compatibility certificate?

The Housing SEPP includes savings provisions for certain development applications and SCCs. This includes applications that were lodged but not determined before the commencement of the Housing SEPP. Check the SEPP to find out if your proposal is affected.

What is an ‘independent living unit’?

Independent living units were previously referred to as 'self-contained dwellings' and have been re-named to align with current industry terminology. They are for seniors who are independent and able to care for themselves.

Why did the building height definition change?

To be consistent with Standard Instrument LEP definition.

The development standards have increased to 9.5m for independent living units and residential care facilities.

This change supports the unique requirements of seniors housing. An allowance for rooftop plant and machinery has also been provided, recognising the servicing needs of these types of development.

What are the changes to the location and access requirements?

Independent living units must be located close to services or provide those services onsite.

Residential care facilities must provide onsite services. They must also provide adequate transport services, such as a courtesy bus. Point-to-point transport (such as a taxi or ride-share vehicle) cannot be used to satisfy the access requirements of the SEPP.

What are the changes to environmentally sensitive land?

There are some areas where the Housing SEPP does not permit seniors housing. For example, areas that are mapped as coastal protection, wetlands, and bushfire prone land.

Why have the car parking requirements changed?

Residents in residential care facilities have limited car parking needs. The new ratio for parking spaces for these developments is 1 parking space to 15 beds.

For independent living units 10% of parking spaces must now be accessible. This is an increase from 5% previously.

What happened to the restrictions on who can occupy seniors housing?

The restrictions on who can live in seniors housing are included in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2021.

Does the heritage conservation area moratorium still apply?

The government has extended the moratorium on seniors housing in Heritage Conservation Areas until 31 December 2023.

We want to ensure that the planning framework, including state and local controls, will deliver appropriate outcomes for seniors housing in Heritage Conservation Areas. If councils in the Greater Sydney region need to consult with the department on any further policy work or progress changes to their local planning controls for Heritage Conservation Areas, we request that this is done prior to 1 July 2023.

This timing will ensure any necessary policy updates can be finalised prior to the expiry of the moratorium on 31 December 2023.

Does the Metropolitan Rural Area exclusion still apply?

No. Seniors housing is no longer excluded from the Metropolitan Rural Area. The Housing SEPP allows seniors housing in some zones rather than relying on an SCC process.

What changes have been made to seniors housing since the Housing SEPP was made?

A minor amendment was made to the Housing SEPP in March 2022. The amendment included updates to clarify where the seniors housing provisions apply.

Further amendments were made to the seniors housing provisions on 1 July 2022. These included:

  • removing provisions that limited the development of seniors housing on R2 zoned land to the Land and Housing Corporation or an operator under the Retirement Villages Act 1999
  • clarifying the height of building provisions for seniors housing where it is developed by a public authority.

For more information, email [email protected] or phone 02 8289 6701