In a city with a significant shortfall of affordable and supported housing, it is heartening to hear strong support for an increased investment in these critical resources from across the community. Large numbers of the community are acutely aware of the housing pressures happening around them, and in sync with them are community and social housing providers who are becoming more innovative in their efforts to lift supply.
YWCA Canberra has been working over the past three years to build a supported housing development in Ainslie. However, as has been seen with similar supported housing projects, the range and number of objections to the development raised by a small group of locals has been endless and protracted.
It has been a difficult process for my team to regularly digest the mental gymnastics which opponents to our project will put themselves through to oppose a reasonable housing development, while simultaneously stating support for public housing. Sadly, this seems to be all too common in our city when a project to address the shortfall of affordable or public housing is announced and often, paradoxically, is championed loudest by those who call on the ACT government to do more to address housing stress and homelessness.
Through it all, we have become all too familiar with the intricacies of planning, the tree registrar, solar access on the winter solstice, and the untapped heritage significance of a demountable fibro building from the early 2000s. We've encountered each new objection with a degree of patience that is matched by our unwavering commitment to finding solutions for women facing the realities of homelessness in a city that is unaffordable for so many.
What has been most striking however, is when you genuinely try to engage and understand the reasons for such strong objections, poverty and judgement is often at the heart of them.
I ask those who oppose builds like ours to keep in mind that poverty and misfortune is a state and not a trait intrinsic to an individual.
Our YHomes development is not an investment in maintaining poverty. Rather, it is an investment in safe, sustainable, and modest housing, affordable to someone living on the single aged pension, with little or no superannuation at their disposal. It is an investment in stability for a woman with children who has made the brave decision to leave a violent relationship, without having to make herself and her children homeless. YHomes recognises that women who escape violence or who live in poverty still have aspirations for their futures. For some it is simply stability, and a chance to reset or to build friendships with their neighbours.
This is not an attempt to minimise the systemic issues affecting homelessness in Australia. We do however believe that housing first, as a principle, is fundamental to making these achievable aspirations a reality.
In the more than three years that we have been working to make YHomes a reality, support for our project can be found across a breadth of demographic cohorts, from young people stuck in a rental trap to older Canberrans who recognise their fortune in having bought a centrally located family home when it was affordable.
The costly, lengthy, and insatiable nature of the opposition to YHomes necessitated a ministerial call in. There can be no denying that social, supported, public and affordable housing is needed in our city and that innovation in design and developers is part of that solution. Further delays carried an immense risk for future Australian government investment into housing supply in the ACT - the possibility of us missing out on a slice of the future pie is a real prospect. And without balanced investment, Canberra will simply struggle to achieve the diversity of supply forecasted to accommodate the population if the appeals process can become an arena for groups who challenge reasonable progress without consequence.
So, I call for a truce to the objections and instead a reframing of those who live in social housing and the future residents of YHomes. Do you look at your current neighbour and contemplate what struggles they endure and rather than offer sympathy present only opposition to their predicament? Or do you allow them privacy and offer them neighbourly friendship?
An appropriate affordable home is fundamental to exiting poverty. So next time you hear of a social or public housing development in your neighbourhood, I urge Canberrans to give thought to the individual and collective aspirations of our city, for those who need stable housing, and for our city that has become home to generations of aspirational newcomers and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
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