ACT's Planning Minister Mick Gentleman has had to use call-in powers to approve a community organisation's second attempt to build housing for vulnerable women in the inner-north suburb of Ainslie.
The plan for housing older women experiencing poverty and fleeing domestic violence was stymied when three members of an Ainslie residents' group argued the development did not meet various rules and criteria of the community and facility-zone development and multi-unit housing development codes.
The community organisation, under the auspices of the YWCA, revised the design of the development, lodging an application in February for nine units.
Meanwhile, the number of people who may require such accommodation grows steadily each month.
The long and arduous process to have this much-needed community housing approved was mercifully cut short when Gentlemen stepped in.
His reasoning was sound; he ordered the development go ahead on a number of conditions, including measures to safeguard protected trees on the site and the adjacent park, which were among the neighbours' concerns.
But sometimes protecting trees comes at the expense of leaving vulnerable people in more danger.
Should it have even come to this? Strange as it may seem, the community in need of this housing does not sit within the strictures of building codes and community consultation.
Women needing safe housing for themselves and their children have little to do with variations of Crown leases or multi-unit housing development codes.
Instead, they are part of a growing cohort of Canberrans who are losing out on crisis and transitional accommodation.
We have reported of the many Canberra residents waiting nearly two months for crisis and transitional accommodation in March, as a backlog of people waiting for social housing is preventing them from housing some of the most vulnerable.
This backlog means those most in need, like the older women needing the Ainslie accommodation, are waiting longer than is humane for emergency accommodation.
There is room to change the narrative around constant housing shortfalls and ballooning waitlists.
How to solve this problem? Most people in the ACT are supportive, in principle, of community housing, but such developments are stymied by being considered in the same context as less pressing projects.
Concerns around architectural style, suitability for purpose and adjacent parklands are sound in most cases, but there's also an argument for avoiding bottlenecks by expediting the approval process around emergency housing.
Such projects should operate on a separate track, and a timeline that exists apart from those of commercial apartments, housing developments or office space.
Minister for Homelessness and Housing Services Rebecca Vassarotti acknowledges that COVID and the cost-of-living crisis has left the "specialist homelessness sector", as the government calls it, more exposed than ever.
But for future projects like the one at Ainslie, community organisations like the YWCA will continue to negotiate with our over-complex planning rules in order to provide basic housing for those in need.
Of course they will - they have no choice. Organisations like the YWCA are used to persevering in order to help those in need. But they shouldn't have to.
There is room to change the narrative around perpetual struggle, constant housing shortfalls and ballooning waitlists.
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