17 September 2022

A new home and refuge: First tenants in at Common Ground Dickson

| Ian Bushnell
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Common Ground Dickson

Common Ground Dickson: an elegant building that will be home for some of Canberra’s most vulnerable people. Photos: ACT Government.

Local residents didn’t want it, saying it was the right project in the wrong location, and it got the green light courtesy of Planning Minister Mick Gentleman’s controversial call-in, but the first tenants are now moving into Canberra’s newest social and affordable housing development.

The $23 million, six-storey, 40-unit Common Ground Dickson on Hawden Place is a reality and will offer badly needed accommodation to vulnerable women, single parents and children.

The Common Ground housing model supports people to move directly from homelessness into permanent housing, and the Dickson development is the second of its kind in the ACT after the construction of Common Ground Gungahlin in 2015.

Mr Gentleman used his call-in powers to wave the proposal through in 2020 in the face of objections from North Canberra Community Council which had concerns about the lack of an integrated plan for Section 72 in Dickson and the suitability of the site.

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He said at the time that the project warranted the rare move, saying he did not want housing for the homeless delayed by objections and possible court action.

The building consists of self-contained units with a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom layouts, as well as a potential cafe, communal green space, meeting spaces and play areas.

The project is designed to suit the needs of identified tenants with the support they need to stay housed, to improve their connections to health, education and employment and to live independently with stability.

Donations from Canberra businesses have been used to furnish the units and common areas.

Community Housing Canberra (CHC) will manage the site, while YWCA has been subcontracted to provide support services.

Common Ground Dickson room

A dining room in the new Common Ground Dickson.

CHC CEO Andrew Hannan said half the units would be for the “most needy of the needy”, while the other half would be affordable rentals at less than the market rate.

He said most of the units were taken, apart from a few of the one-bedroom affordable rentals.

“The social housing tenants typically have been people who have been on the public housing waitlist and/or been in more crisis accommodation, or have actually been homeless, so couch surfing, sleeping rough, that type of thing,” Mr Hannan said.

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He said the building and its wraparound services were exciting additions to Canberra’s social housing mix but not a panacea.

“There has been a real buzz from all the stakeholders that have been directly involved over recent weeks as we got down to D-Day with the first tenants moving in,” Mr Hannan said.

“In terms of addressing the most needy it’s a net add of 20 social housing dwellings and investment by government in the wraparound support services that are being delivered by YWCA Canberra. So yes, it’s a really positive step but the scale of need is far greater.”

Common Ground Dickson bedroom

A bedroom in the Common Ground Dickson complex.

He said the community facilities in the building and the soon to be announced social enterprise would provide opportunities for residents to become part of the Dickson community.

After all the concerns about location, Mr Hannan said the building fitted into the area and polished that end of Section 72.

“It’s a very elegant building,” he said. “I think it blends in really well.”

Mr Hann said it was a really good location, with the Dickson Group Centre nearby, and the area’s amenities and public transport links, including light rail on Northbourne Avenue.

YWCA Canberra’s chief operating officer Cara Jacobs said Common Ground Dickson targeted some of its key cohorts.

“This project will substantially impact our wider community by providing some relief to the chronic affordable housing shortage in Canberra,” she said.

Collins Caddaye Architects designed the building for Housing & Community Services ACT and Richard Crookes Constructions was the builder.

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Incidental Tourist10:25 pm 12 Sep 22

$23M for 40 tenants (!) plus donated land in prime location, plus ongoing landlord’s costs, such as rates, water supply and sewerage, repair and maintenance, body corporate, and tenancy management fees. As a result 40 low social economic tenancies will live door to door in the same house… These tens of millions of public funds could have been far better spent to subsidise rent to many hundreds or even thousands of needy tenants (let alone pay full rent to all these 40 tenants), evenly place them across ACT and perhaps even subside their dental and medical expenses and even give them all free public transport pass.

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