31 August 2023

Project Independence's Phillip venture brings home ownership within reach for residents

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Their Excellencies Mrs Linda Hurley and the Governor-General with Project Independence founder Glenn Keys at the Phillip opening. Photos: Genevieve Jacobs.

“Welcome home,” Glenn Keys said as doors opened – literally – at the newest Project Independence site in Phillip.

The day was a long time coming. Twice disrupted by the pandemic, what was originally a six-month project in 2019 turned into an epic build that’s taken almost four years. But this week, 10 residents begin their journey to home ownership as they move into units at the Phillip development.

Project Independence enables people with intellectual disabilities to own their own small units within a larger house space, financed through their Disability Support Pensions. Each unit includes a bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette, living space and courtyard.

Up to 10 residents will live at the Philip development, with additional accommodation for a live-in resident coordinator. The spaces are fresh and welcoming, creating plenty of social interaction blended with privacy for residents, most of whom are employed.

Aged between 23 and 35, many of the new residents are leaving home for the first time. They’re taking important steps towards self-reliance but also giving their families space to downsize and let go some of their lifelong caring responsibilities.

One of the new Philip residents is Liam, who was at the opening with his parents Gary and Sue. He works at The Good Guys in Tuggeranong and, at 28, is excited to be moving into his own home. Gary and Sue are also thrilled, after working on building Liam’s independent living skills and giving him his own space.

“We’re so proud of Liam,” Gary said. “He’s excited at taking this next step in his life and we know he’s safe.”

Project Independence patron Governor-General David Hurley, who officially opened the project with Her Excellency Mrs Hurley, reminded the crowd of Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation.”

He noted the many challenges along the way for the project’s completion, and the tenacity of Glenn and the Project Independence board in pushing through a big vision for residents.

The challenges have been many, Glenn said. Aside from the pandemic, they included rising construction costs, delayed materials and even the theft of all the dishwashers the day after they had been installed.

Many hands contributed to the success of the Philip project. Icon builders, the John James Foundation, the Snow Foundation, Capital Chemists and the Tall Foundation all played an important role in completing the project and were acknowledged along with many tradies.

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“Access to secure and affordable housing is fundamental to our wellbeing and is often referred to as the Great Australian Dream,” Glenn said as he thanked sponsors, the Project Independence board and staff.

“Their generous contribution speaks to just how committed the Canberra community, and the broader philanthropic community, is to addressing housing issues for some of our most disadvantaged groups when it comes to the basic right of owning your own home.”

The Philip site is the third in Canberra, all with waiting lists. Project Independence also has a site awaiting development at Frenchs Forest in Sydney and another interstate project in the works.

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Project Independence meets an important community need. Anglicare’s annual Rental Affordability Snapshot found that among 45,000 rental listings advertised on a selected weekend in March 2023, only 0.2 per cent would be affordable and suitable for a single person on the Disability Support Pension (DSP).

There were no affordable or suitable listings in the ACT and Queanbeyan, and home ownership rates for people with disabilities generally lag a long way behind the rest of the Australian population.

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