Latham's Project Independence key to home ownership for intellectually disabled
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Latham's Project Independence key to home ownership for intellectually disabled

Lee Leary always believed his intellectual disability meant he would never own a home of his own.

That will change forever when he moves into a Project Independence house in Latham a few weeks from now.

Lee Leary, who has been living with an acquired brain injury for more than 24 years, is about to move into his own home in Latham thanks to Project Independence.

Lee Leary, who has been living with an acquired brain injury for more than 24 years, is about to move into his own home in Latham thanks to Project Independence.Credit:Rohan Thomson

The 50-something Belconnen resident's future plans had been shattered almost three decades ago when an accident left him with an acquired brain injury.

As a direct consequence of that injury Mr Leary has been living in public and community housing controlled by others since he was 24.

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Neither he, nor his family, thought any other options were possible until he was told he was a prospective Project Independence candidate.

The brainchild of Aspen Medical founder and philanthropist, Glenn Keys, and former Special Olympics ACT chair, David Hill, Project Independence will deliver homes for 20 intellectually disabled Canberrans before the end of June.

Originally established to provide a better quality of accommodation for the intellectually disabled, it didn't always have an equity component.

"About two years into the project Mel [Keys] and I had built a new house," Mr Keys said. "We were unpacking and I said to my son [who has an intellectual disability] `Mate, will you help me unpack some boxes?'.

"He said: `I can't Dad, I'm very busy'. I said: `Really, so busy you can't unpack a box? What's so important'?"

"He said: `I'm designing the house I want to buy when I leave home'. Honestly, it was like a slap in the face. I suddenly thought we all want to own our own home, why wouldn't a person with an intellectual disability want to own their own home? [Until then] I had a paternalistic view of housing for people with an intellectual disability.

"After that I spoke to David [Hill] and David [Carr] and said: `We need to make it [the housing] so they can buy it'."

That wasn't easy but, as a result, Project Independence is believed to be the only program in the world that lets people with an intellectual disability buy into a property which can be their home for the rest of their lives just using the pension.

Because it sits outside traditional property ownership models participants are not eligible for the first home buyer's grant, an anomaly Mr Keys would like to see changed.

"[Access to first home buyer support] would make an enormous difference for the [equity] percentages for participants. That wouldn't benefit Project Independence, it would benefit each independent resident," he said.

Homes are designed around a community living model supported by a live-in resident co-ordinator.

Each resident pays $220,000 for their own 'bedsit' unit with a private bathroom and kitchenette as well as access to a communal kitchen and living and dining areas.

The first complex, which will accommodate 10 people, opened on Friday. A second complex, which will also accommodate 10 people, opens next week in Harrison. Plans are already in hand for a third complex in Phillip in 2017.

David Ellery is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

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