Innovation in Housing Typology

13 June 2019

This week YWCA Canberra’s CEO, Frances Crimmins participated in the Property Council ACT’s event, “Innovation in Housing Typology”. The event focused on affordable housing in the ACT and new models to ensure all Canberrans have an appropriate, affordable and safe place to call home. The below article is an excerpt from Frances’ presentation, which followed a screening of the Hidden Women short documentary below.

As CEO of YWCA Canberra, I have the privilege of working with the women you’ve just heard from in the video and sharing and acknowledging their stories.

While each of these women’s stories is unique, the number and diversity of people in housing stress is growing and there is a shortage of affordable housing options across all segments: social, community and private.

Around Australia there’s a growing ageing population and a Tsunami of older women sleeping in their cars and couch-surfing with no savings, no super, no support.

While we cannot predict a Tsunami, we have failed to act on the prediction of a nation-wide housing crisis.

This failure is in part about addressing structural inequalities at all levels of government policy and ensuring an appropriate housing response.

For the majority of Canberrans that we support at YWCA Canberra, the housing stress they are experiencing has occurred through no fault of their own.

At YWCA Canberra we provide three types of housing services:

  1. Fully supported social housing
  2. Community affordable rental housing and group homes that we own
  3. Affordable rental properties that are privately owned through our new charitable property management service, Rentwell

I am a proud third generation Canberran. When I moved out of home at 19, I could afford to rent my own place and had a choice of rental properties – I selected a bedsit that cost me $65 per week. I was then able to transition into home ownership in my early 20’s.

I don’t accept that in my community 20 years later that a 19 year old can’t contemplate renting their own place, let alone make the transition to home ownership.

Today people living in the ACT generally have more wealth and opportunities than ever before, we’re better connected, we’re nation and world-leading in a range of industries and fields, our economy is the fastest growing in Australia, and we’re widely regarded as being “the Capital of equality”.

Why then, do we have a growing number of people experiencing homelessness and even more people in housing stress?

In the Canberra that YWCA Canberra is building, we do things differently.

We act together – government, community and corporate sectors across faiths, backgrounds, ages, abilities, colours, sexualities and genders.

At YWCA Canberra we believe we can end homelessness – and we’re not waiting for the future to unfold. We’re creating it.

We know that the majority of people in housing stress don’t need ongoing support, they don’t need staff case managing their lives, telling them how to live in the community.

The majority have agency and the capability to enable their own self-determination. What they need is a home that is affordable, which means spending no more than 30% of their income on rent.

We need to end our ambulance at the bottom of the cliff approach and provide housing options well before homelessness. We need to stop servicing people to remain homeless.

Here in the ACT, we know that Canberrans are proud of our welcoming, inclusive culture and great quality of life. But we need to make sure that this is a reality for all Canberrans.

We know that Canberrans who are in a position to help people that are struggling are keen to lend a hand however they can.

We also know the ACT Government prides itself on being a human rights jurisdiction. We were the first jurisdiction in Australia to enact a Human Rights Act, which provides an explicit statutory basis for respecting, protecting and promoting civil and political rights.

Because of this and our relative size, the ACT Government can make bold unprecedented policy changes in order to make life in Canberra even better for its citizens.

We need leadership from not-for-profit organisations like YWCA Canberra, we need our allies in the corporate sector, we need good will from the community and we need government action – now and in the long-term.

There’s no silver bullet to end homelessness. We need a mix of different interventions to meet the vastly different needs of the people experiencing housing stress or homelessness and we have to meet people where they are at in terms of the other support they need.

So here at YWCA Canberra we looked at what other jurisdictions were doing, we talked to experts in the property, construction, legal, philanthropic, banking and business sectors and came up with a solution.

Rentwell the ACT’s first charitable property management service. Through Rentwell, we manage and lease privately owned investment properties in the ACT at below 75% market rate, providing affordable housing to people who are struggling to maintain tenancies in the mainstream market.

Through Rentwell, everyday Canberrans can make a contribution to the pool of affordable, safe, suitable and secure housing in the ACT.

But why would someone want to rent their investment property out at below market rates? Wouldn’t that mean less cash in the bank at the end of the day?

The property owners we’ve brought on board since our launch on 6 March are doing this for 4 main reasons, the first of which is by far the most important of them all:

  1. They want to help their fellow Canberrans that are struggling – even if it means they will derive less of an income from their investment
  2. Thanks to the ACT Government, they can apply for a full land tax exemption when they sign up, this needs to be lifted from the first 100 homes.
  3. They receive a tax-deductible gift receipt from us for any rental income foregone
  4. They sign a head lease agreement with YWCA Canberra, not the tenant – providing them with assurance over the rental income received

It’s early days, but the warm and enthusiastic reception we’ve had from property owners and their stories about why they want to sign up to Rentwell are nothing short of incredible.

This continuous flow of altruistic property owners reinforces our belief that in Canberra we fundamentally want to support each other – and when we are in a position to do so, we will help lift each other up.

In terms of tenants, we’ve been inundated with enquiries and are busy matching single mums, older women, young families and mature age students to our homes.

These people are everyday Canberrans who are on modest incomes, struggling to afford the mainstream rental market.

So how can you join us in creating my Canberra where everyone has an affordable, secure, and appropriate place to call home?

We are currently on track to exceed our goal of tenanting 25 rental properties by the end of this year, 50 by the end of next year and 150 properties by the end of 2021.

Our team is taking calls from property owners and prospective tenants every day.

It is now up to people like you – who are or may know property developers and investors in the ACT – to join us and take a practical, tangible and life-changing step.

We can do things differently – we can give everyone a place to call home.

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