Finding housing that is affordable is a big issue in Canberra, particularly when you are on a low income. It’s something that is talked about regularly in the media (including on this esteemed news site), within friendship groups, in workplaces and in families. It’s a complex issue that while shared by communities across Australia and the world, requires both local and national responses.
As such, the recent announcement of a new advisory group to advise the government on the issues of affordable housing and homelessness is welcome news. Many advocates were bitterly disappointed that the recent Territory budget largely neglected the priority issue of addressing homelessness and affordable housing, which was a surprise given the fact that the ACT has the inglorious title as the Australian capital with the second highest rate of homelessness in Australia. At the time, the ACT Government noted that there would be a range of mechanisms rolled out including a homelessness summit, which has now been announced to be held this October.
It is easy to be cynical when a new government advisory group is announced. It is easy to think that it will merely result in either token consultation or privileged access for those with vested interests. However, there are a number of indications that this group might make a real difference and has the chance to operate as an effective advisor to the government on this seemingly intractable issue.
A key to its success might be its composition. Significantly, the group includes a number of public housing tenant which signals the valuing of lived experience as an input into policy development. This experience is an important complement to other perspectives and evidence and should make a difference in the discussions held by this group.
Another significant element in its make up is that it brings together academics, industry, advocates and community housing providers. This includes ACT Shelter, Property Council ACT, Luton Properties, Woden Community Service, University of Canberra, Havelock House and Royal Australian Institute of Architects. There is a great opportunity in bringing together unusual alliances to thrash out issues and come up with creative solutions. If participants are able to move beyond their specific expertise and focus, there is real potential to ‘think outside the square’, make connections which would not be evident when working on isolated issues and identify creative solutions.
The group should also be assisted by the fact that it is not being looked at to provide all the answers. The announcement has suggested that the group will be supported by a range of engagements with the community and other interested organisations, which will culminate in the homelessness summit to be held later in the year which will hopefully identify proposals to address our homelessness and affordable housing crisis.
This is an age of collaboration, where challenging issues will only be solved when different groups come together with shared purpose, good will and a commitment to make a difference. This is a time where Governments need to engage differently and collaboratively and this is a great example of how different perspectives can be brought together.
I am hopeful that this approach might deliver new and innovative processes that enable all citizens of the ACT to be able to call somewhere home. What do you think?