Disability housing provider buys Geocon apartments for $10 million

A not-for-profit housing company has bought 20 apartments in two Geocon developments in Canberra so that young people with disabilities do not have to live in aged care facilities or other inappropriate housing.

Geocon  managing director Nick Georgalis and Summer Housing chief executive Dan McLennan at the Republic building site in Belconnen where there will be 10  modified apartments for people with disabilities. Photo: Terry Cunningham.

Geocon managing director Nick Georgalis and Summer Housing chief executive Dan McLennan at the Republic building site in Belconnen where there will be 10 modified apartments for people with disabilities. Photo: Terry Cunningham.

Victorian-based Summer Housing is moving into the ACT through the venture, with the modified apartments in Belconnen and Woden to cost it $10 million.

Summer Housing chief executive Dan McLennan said there were more than 50 people with disabilities aged under 65 living in aged care facilities in Canberra.

Others were living in the Canberra Hospital because they could not be accommodated elsewhere or were living with ageing parents. Other young people with disabilities had to live interstate away from their family in Canberra because there were no other housing options for them.

Geocon managing director Nick Georgalis says the first residents of the Republic site in Belconnen will be in their homes by Christmas. Photo:  Terry Cunningham

Geocon managing director Nick Georgalis says the first residents of the Republic site in Belconnen will be in their homes by Christmas. Photo: Terry Cunningham

Mr McLennan said 10 apartments were purchased in the Republic precinct in Belconnen and 10 in the Grand Central Towers project in Woden, both still under construction.

With the help of National Disability Insurance Scheme funding, the tenants would pay about 25 per cent of their disability support pension to rent the apartments, which had been modified to include customised kitchens and bathrooms, wheelchair-accessible balconies, wider doorways and structural provision for ceiling joists.

There would also be a separate apartment for on-call staff to be available when needed around the clock, with the help of technology,

"So that if there is an issue, whether it's by hitting a button on the iPad, making a phone call or using voice communication, support can be there when it's needed. It enables that peace of mind for people to live independent, normal lives," Mr McLennan said.

Summer Housing's preference was to house young people with disabilities in mainstream apartment projects close to infrastructure and public transport rather than in far-flung, purpose-built facilities.

"That's the big thing, living in a normal, mainstream property, not being isolated in a more frontier location where land is cheap," Mr McLennan said.

Summer Housing chose to team up with Geocon for the move into Canberra.

"It was a pretty logical choice, we looked at the market and saw who had projects in locations we wanted to be and reached out [to Geocon] and was immediately embraced in terms of, 'This is a great idea. This is something we want to do'," Mr McLennan said.

Geocon managing director Nick Georgalis met on Thursday with Mr McLennan on the $1 billion Republic site in Belconnen which will have 1250 apartments, a 180-room, hotel, 6000 square metres of retail including Canberra's first Woolworths Metro supermarket and a 500 public car parking spaces.

The Republic precinct being built by Geocon in Belconnen is "Australia's largest residential project". Photo: Terry Cunningham.

The Republic precinct being built by Geocon in Belconnen is "Australia's largest residential project". Photo: Terry Cunningham.

The first residents of Republic were due to move in by Christmas. Mr Georgalis said he wanted to see more of supported housing in all Geocon's developments.

"Often I hear people banging on the table, asking government to fix problems, and the reality is, government doesn't have the expertise sometimes to solve these problems," he said.

"This is a very good example of collaboration of two private sector industries that actually understand the issues. We understand acquisition and delivery of precinct; Dan understands the needs and requirements of people in this particular sector."

Geocon has been under fire recently for using what some see as sexist marketing. Mr Georgalis said the supported housing venture was not a response to the bad press Geocon had been receiving, but a project that had been in the works for at least nine months.

"I think the reality is we're doing a lot of good things and this is one of the good things we are delivering for the ACT," he said.

"We've got thick skin. I think one of the things we strive to do is stay professional and stay focused."

Mr Georgalis, meanwhile, said the Republic precinct was "Australia's largest residential project".

"It's underestimated the scale of this project," he said.

Summer Housing chief executive Dan McLennan with Geocon managing director Nick Georgalis at the Republic site in Belconnen. Photo:  Terry Cunningham.

Summer Housing chief executive Dan McLennan with Geocon managing director Nick Georgalis at the Republic site in Belconnen. Photo: Terry Cunningham.

He believed there was still unmet demand in Canberra for apartment buildings because of the growth of the city. Of the 950 apartments in the first stage of Republic, 800 had been sold.

"I daresay they'll be all gone by Christmas, if not earlier," he said.

Prospective tenants and their families can register their interest with Summer Housing at www.summerhousing.org.au/our-apartments/act