Canberra's Glenn Keys on charity and the launch of a new social housing project in the ACT

Canberra's Glenn Keys on charity and the launch of a new social housing project in the ACT

What does Australian philanthropy look like?

It's a question that Glenn Keys, who was last year's ACT nominee for Australian of the Year, has reflected on over the past 12 months.

Glenn Keys is the man behind a new social housing model in the ACT.

Glenn Keys is the man behind a new social housing model in the ACT.Credit:Jay Cronan

Mr Keys was awarded the title for his work as both a philanthropist and a disability advocate.

His own interpretation approaches a milestone this year, as the first tenants of a new social housing model prepare to move in to their new homes.


Project Independence pulls in business, charity and the government to address what Mr Keys sees as one of the biggest problems facing not just people with a disability, not just the ACT, but all Australia.

The end result is that people with a disability own their own home.

The group has one of the lowest home ownership rates in Australia, Mr Keys said. He said that in the past attitudes to disability were paternalistic – "we'll look after you".

Mr Keys, who is also managing director of private healthcare provider Aspen Medical, hopes to turn that on its head.

Under the model, with land granted by the ACT government and a system developed by charities that cater to those with a disability, Project Independence will build properties for people with a mild intellectual disability.

A 10 per cent deposit of $25,000 allows people involved in the project. After that, 75 per cent of the person's disability pension goes towards the home maintenance, operational costs and food.

The rest goes towards paying off their equity. When they leave the property is sold to another person, and the seller gets back what they put in plus any capital growth.

Mr Keys admits the deposit was a concern when developing the model.

"We were worried people could reach it," he said. "A lot of parents of kids with an intellectual disability are behind the socioeconomic 8-ball, because one of them has had to stop working, so immediately they've got challenges."

However, he says if the people who can afford it do participate, it will reduce the number of people on the ACT's public housing waiting list.

He gives his son Ehren, 22, who has Down syndrome, as an example.

Mr Keys says people like Ehren, who work and have financial support, are best suited to the scheme.

"We're going to take people who can afford to pay, and we're going to take them out of the pool for people that can't pay, so that we free up the public housing waiting list," he said.

Mr Keys said Australians are still struggling with the idea of Australian philanthropy.

The United States version is familiar: massive grants and trusts in the benefactor's name, such as Mark Zuckerberg's $44 million contribution to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

"What I'm impressed about is the graphic designer here in Canberra who says, 'I'll design all your cards for nothing', the photographer who's a sole trader who says, 'I'll do all the photography for Project Independence.

"That's Australian philanthropy."

Alexandra Back is a reporter with The Canberra Times

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