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Why these might be Canberra’s most important houses

Beatrice Smith

Like many of my Millenial peers, I worry about getting my foot on the property ladder. 

It’s what the media tells me to be worried about, as the spotlight of the housing affordability crisis seemed fixated on those with a love of travel, expensive university degree and a fascination with avocado on toast.

But after I meet Glenn Keys, Chairman of Project Independence, it hits home that—for others—even the act of gaining financial independence is sometimes out of reach. And it’s not what the media is paying attention to.

Glenn explains that while housing affordability is a national issue at the moment, little attention is paid to the fact that, for those with an intellectual disability, owning a home can be out of reach for life.

“If you’re someone with an intellectual disability in Australia, you have the lowest rate of home ownership of any sector in the country,” says Glenn.

He explains that the typical narrative for a person with an intellectual disability (ID) is that they move out of their parents’ home and into social housing. This is typically a residential-style group home, which will then be shared between three or four other people that they “didn’t get to pick”.

“That might work when you’ve just left home,” explains Glenn. “But not when you’re 30 or 40 or 50 [years old]. For most people with an ID, that’s their only choice.”

The difficulty with this option is that “if you’ve been living in social housing for six years, you’ll have saved nothing, because you’ll have paid in 75% of your pension, plus [your Commonwealth allowances].”

As Glenn puts it, “People with an intellectual disability have been at the bottom of [the property ladder] for pretty much forever.”

So what can be done about it?

The need for financial as well as physical independence became obvious to Glenn when his own son, Ehren, who has Down Syndrome, told him he was designing the house he wanted to buy when he left home.

“It was like a slap in the face,” says Glenn. “Because I thought ‘I would expect my other two children to buy their own home, why wouldn’t I expect Ehren to do the same?’.”

A visit to where some of Ehren’s friends were living in social housing accommodation served as the spark of inspiration for Project Independence, especially when Glenn heard that over 250 people had applied to live in the small set of units.

Glenn and Ehren with Joy Burch MLA at the Commencement of Construction of Project Independence recidences at Harrison, ACT.

Glenn and Ehren with Joy Burch MLA at the Commencement of Construction of Project Independence residences at Harrison, ACT. Image: Supplied.

So Project Independence was established, with the aim to enable, empower and, as the name might suggest, allow for independence to flourish where it might otherwise be stifled by the current systems.

Simply put, “it’s a home ownership program for people with intellectual disability.”

Project Independence’s unique model works in a way that makes sure that people with an ID who are living out of home for the first time are fully supported while learning essential life skills, but then given the opportunity to grow their independence through buying their own home further down the track, without derailing their financial capacity.

“What we’ve done is create a model where people with an [ID] can buy their own home out of their pension,” explains Glenn. “Then, when they’re ready…we sell the home on their behalf and they get back all the equity they paid in, plus a percentage of the capital growth. That then gives them the opportunity to buy and move into their home.”

Compared to the option of paying for social housing year to year, Glenn says that if someone has been living in a Project Independence house for six years, the minimum they would “walk away with” would be $59,000.

Seven years after they started, Project Independence have bought two blocks of land in Canberra and built 20 units, all of which are full.

“That’s 20 families who thought, at best, that their child would see out their life in social housing, [who are] now owning their own home,” says Glenn.

The next step is another block of land for another 10 units, which they’re around $800,000 shy of completing with $1.4 million already raised. For those 10 one person units, they already have 37 expressions of interest.

Glenn is also excited for the future of Project Independence and where they might be able to take this model of home ownership.

“If it works for the lowest rate of home ownership, could it work for the others above that? Will it work for women escaping domestic violence? Will it work for older women who have no [superannuation] or savings – it’s one of the larger homeless groups we have in Canberra – will it work for refugees?”

“My honest belief is that we can revolutionise how social housing is provided in this country.”

To help Project Independence build their next block of units (and their next, and their next…) you’re invited to attend their September fundraiser, taking place at the Rolfe Classic BMW Showroom on 8 September. The night will be a Rubik Cube-themed cocktail event, emceed by Alex Sloane and featuring live music and silent and live auctions as well as a raffle.

In addition to this, Project Independence has also been chosen as one of the three beneficiaries for the 2017 Luton Charity Ball (fittingly named ‘Homes for Hope’) which will be held at the National Convention Centre on Saturday 19 August.

So what are you waiting for? Show your support for the inspiring work of Project Independence and buy your tickets to not one, but two nights of well-mannered frivolity.

the essentials 

What: The Project Independence Rubiks Cube Cocktail Fundraiser
When: Friday 8 September from 6.30pm
Where: Rolfe Classic BMW Showroom 2 Botany Street, Phillip
Tickets: $60 per person. Click here to purchase.
More information: projectindependence.iwannaticket.com.au

What: The Luton Charity Ball ‘Homes of Hope’ 
When: Saturday 19 August from 6pm
Where: The National Convention Centre, 31 Constitution Avenue, Civic
Tickets: From $103. Click here to purchase
More information: lutoncharityball.iwannaticket.com.au

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Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Editorial Coordinator involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise you’ll find her at the movies, ordering a cheese board or ordering a cheese board at the movies. More about the Author

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