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In defence of new public housing

April 06, 2017

Part of living in an egalitarian city means ensuring that our most vulnerable people are supported. It is the measure of our community, and what makes Canberra such a great place to live.

As a Labor candidate one of the reasons I stood for election to ensure our most vulnerable people get the support they need. That’s why now as a Labor Member I also support the Government’s public housing renewal plan and the proposed investment and developments in my electorate to build more quality adaptive housing for existing public housing tenants.

One of the ACT Government’s most important roles is to provide people with a roof over their head, when they and their children cannot afford the private market. It is the first step in tackling any further aspects of disadvantage.

The ACT has always had a significant level of public housing as part of our housing mix. The ‘salt and pepper’ approach of public housing in the ACT has meant that there are small pockets of co-located housing in almost all suburbs (Wright has been, up to now, an exception).

Part of the rationale for this is that tenants are there to support each other and community organisations are there to support the tenants – a supportive housing model.

The supportive housing will be built on parts of Community Facility-zoned land, which is consistent with the permitted uses in the Territory Plan.

Supportive housing is housing for those in need of support. The tenants will be carefully selected by Housing ACT, with assistance from community service organisations, on the basis of their suitability for this type of development in these areas.

The small medium density developments proposed by the Government are a world away from the unsustainable, high density concentrations of disadvantage along Northbourne Avenue.

The Northbourne Flats, in particular, have been ‘hard to let’ to Housing ACT tenants for years, with many remaining empty because they are inappropriate, particularly for families, with many of them one bedroom apartments.

The public housing on Northbourne has reached the end of its useful life. The flats are simply unsuitable for residents – that’s why I’m very supportive of the redevelopment of these flats with residents moving to new, better quality homes throughout our city. Readers may remember that this was successfully achieved in the past with the demolition of unsuitable, high density flats at Burnie Court in Lyons.

This is not the first time that tenants have been moved into more suitable, lower density and better quality accommodation. Several years ago in Chapman and Kambah new adaptive public housing developments were built under the economic stimulus package by the ACT Government. These were very similar in size to the current proposals, and were also built on Community Facilities zoned land. These were also just as controversial at the time in the community.

The final result of these developments has proved the success of the supportive housing model. I doorknocked these housing communities during the election last year and asked some of the residents how they found living there; overwhelmingly it was positive and the people welcoming and friendly. When I doorknocked the Chapman townhouses I didn’t even know it was public housing initially because the quality of the housing was so high and it fitted in so well with the neighbouring community.

While I support more public housing on the Southside, I also support genuine consultation taking place on them with the community. In the past constructive consultation on public housing has led to great outcomes in Kambah, Chapman and in Greenway. For example, in Kambah, on the former Mount Neighbour School, a community room and garden was developed to support the group activities of the residents.

I’ve spoken before about the importance of consultation before development applications are lodged. In this case the ACT Government has assessed suitability of the sites for supportive housing and gone out to consult with the community on the form of the developments before any development applications have been lodged. While it was not ideal that Weston Creek Community Council cancelled its meeting last week due to large numbers, I encourage residents to attend the drop in sessions scheduled this week on Friday and Saturday by registering here. It is an opportunity to ask all their questions of the Public Housing Taskforce and provide specific feedback. This feedback will be used to help shape the final form of any future developments.

I hope that a respectful dialogue with the community through the consultation, both improves the form of the developments, but also builds a better understanding in the community about the needs and aspirations of public housing tenants.

And I encourage all Canberrans to support public housing tenants, because they are people, and as our neighbours they deserve to have quality shelter in a supportive community – sometimes even next door to us.

This article was originally published on The Riot Act.