2 September 2023

Government confident 400 public housing target will be met in the wake of completed Calwell dwellings

| Claire Fenwicke
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exterior of Calwell public housing townhouses

Tenants will be moving into the 30 new townhouses in Calwell throughout September. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

The ACT has reached another milestone in its commitment to build 400 new public housing dwellings with the opening of 30 townhouses in Calwell.

The homes have been built in partnership with local company Nova Builders and fall under the Parliamentary and Governing Agreement with the ACT Greens.

Their completion means the Territory is forecast to deliver 207 new public housing dwellings this financial year, the halfway point to growing the entire portfolio by 400 dwellings.

Housing Minister Yvette Berry said about 80 per cent of the 3000 people on waitlists for public housing need homes with two or more bedrooms, so these townhouses would go towards meeting that demand.

“These will be places that people can call home that meet their needs,” she said.

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The build time for new public housing had increased to 18 months during the height of the pandemic and its aftermath.

Supply issues and other challenges are now starting to be resolved, meaning this project was completed in less than nine months.

“We’re starting to see that challenge soften … which means we can see homes being built a little bit more quickly,” Ms Berry said.

“Weather has also been a huge challenge. That rain we were experiencing during La Niña over the past couple of years was really impacting the timeframes.

“We know we need to do more, and that’s why we’re keen to work with the Federal Government all the way through this housing crisis as it’s come about.”

The Calwell homes are built to Class C adaptable standards, meaning they can be adapted depending on the accessibility needs of each tenant. This includes the option to install railings in the bathroom, lowering kitchen benches, appropriate gradings at the entrance of the home, and doors wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs.

Nova Builders representative Aidan Pierlot said these extra requirements meant the process was slightly different to building a block of private townhouses, but the experience was invaluable.

“It’s been a learning curve in the best way possible. I would definitely encourage other developers to be involved with something like this,” he said.

“It’s been a great experience for us as a company, and I’ve learned a lot from this project as well.”

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Tenants will be moving into the Calwell townhouses throughout September, making a small dent in the overall public housing waitlist.

Ms Berry said the recent delays to increasing stock meant the government was looking at other ways to free up more houses across the board, including building more affordable rentals.

“We’ve put the callout to partner up with superannuation funds, with other investors who want to build to rent. We’re partnering up with builders across the ACT to take into account the public and social side of housing supply, but we know that’s not the end of it,” she said.

“We’re looking even more into what homes can we purchase off the market, what can we do with our existing homes within our Housing ACT portfolio as far as redevelopment or upgrading and renewing existing homes … there’s a lot to be done, but we’re not taking our eye off the challenge here.”

Ms Berry said the increase in public housing demand on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Summer bushfires and even pressures interstate from floods and other weather events had been “unpredictable”, but now the government had a better lay of the land.

“Now we’re kind of in a place where we can see where it’s at. We’ve provided all the services that we can to support people where they are,” she said.

“Now, simply, we just need to build more homes.”

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Gregg Heldon6:49 am 05 Sep 23

Nova built our townhouse complex three years ago. 135 units. Less than 10% of the units had nothing wrong with them.

Easy for the housing minister to meet public housing goals when she keeps moving the goalposts.

Has she once met the promised public housing numbers over the last decade?

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