Residents have raised opposition to a charity's plan to build accommodation for vulnerable women at an Ainslie site, citing concerns it is "selling out" community facilities land.
YWCA Canberra has submitted a development application to build 10 supported accommodation units on block 1, section 87 at 11 Rutherford Crescent, with a decision expected within weeks.
YWCA chief executive Frances Crimmins said development would provide accommodation for vulnerable older women and women who had experienced domestic violence.
The proposal is to build eight single units and two larger units for women with children.
"Older women are the fastest growing cohort experiencing homelessness," Ms Crimmins said.
"COVID has absolutely exacerbated that. A lot of women hide their homelessness; they will couch surf with family and friends. Sadly we do see women who live in their car.
"Older women as well do a lot of professional housesitting. We have had quite a few clients in that category and when all of us stopped going overseas ... all of that temporary accommodation, where you don't have control of your tenancy, has literally disappeared."
The Ainslie Residents Association says the block, which is zoned as community facilities land, should be retained for use by the community.
Association president Ian Hubbard argued the land should return to its initial use as a preschool, to cope with growing demand in the suburb.
He said residents were not opposed to housing for vulnerable women, but believed it should be built on residential-zoned land.
The community facilities-land zoning allows supported accommodation, as the YWCA has proposed. The plan would also not impede on neighbouring Bill Pye Park.
Mr Hubbard was concerned turning the site into accommodation would set a precedent and lead to more community facilities land being taken from residents.
"We're really selling out community facilities land," he said.
He said the "logical extension" of the allowance of supported accommodation could lead to a reduction in community use facilities on land with that zoning and an increase of housing for vulnerable people.
Ms Crimmins said the YWCA assessed the best use of its land was to support its older, vulnerable clients at that site.
"We genuinely feel we are doing the right thing by dedicating the only block of land we own [to supported accommodation]," she said.
"We are doing this for the greatest need within community facility allowable uses. We think from a charity perspective, what the community expects of charities is to use our resources to the benefit of the most vulnerable."
The YWCA said it received 96 submissions to the development application, including 24 in support of its proposal and 71 opposed.
The association said 23 of the opposed submissions were the same letter submitted by residents.
Ms Crimmins said the block was bought by the YWCA in 1992 from the ACT government as a commercial transaction for $200,000 and currently holds a 99-year lease "to deliver community activities and childcare".
The site was once home to a preschool but has not been used for that purpose since before YWCA bought the land.
"The YWCA have used the site for our own community activities. At the time it was only zoned for community activities, which was very broad," Ms Crimmins said.
Ms Crimmins said the site was never used for childcare by the YWCA as it would have required "significant work".
It has been used a youth and women's centre and is currently used to hold sector meetings and co-ordinate family and school care. One building on the site is currently leased to the Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs Association.