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Project Independence – an innovative home ownership model

26 Jun 2019, by Amy Sarcevic

People with an intellectual disability have the lowest rate of homeownership in Australia. But, until recently, they have largely been missed in conversations about affordable housing, according to Glenn Keys AO of Aspen Medical.

“When we talk about affordable housing in political discourse, what we’re often referring to is your typical, twenty-something-year-old couple looking to buy their first home. What’s often not taken into consideration is the most disadvantaged home ownership group in the country – those who have an intellectual disability,” said Mr. Keys, ahead of Informa’s National Disability Summit.

In Australia, the vast majority of housing options presented to those with an intellectual disability are “group housing” arrangements – in which individuals are placed on a waiting list (up to ten years) to receive a room in a shared home, cohabitating with other people (usually strangers) that also have an intellectual disability.

Given the longevity of the waiting list, the majority of participants will accept the first room that becomes available to them, foregoing the luxury of choice in terms of who they live with.

Mr. Keys said that, while the group housing model does have many benefits, it is perhaps less suitable for older, or more mature adults, who tend to value their privacy more.

It also stunts financial growth, in that the rental bill of a group house consumes up to 75 percent of the average disability pension allowance, as well as the Commonwealth Rental Assistance Allowance.

“This leaves no scope for saving and keeps people with intellectual disability plateaued at a low-level of independence and prosperity,”  he said.

Accompanying this, is often a lack of inclusion and opportunity in the workforce, meaning that people living with intellectual disability often occupy lower-bracket-income roles.

“If we are really genuine about integration into the community, then we have to look at models that will provide affordable housing solutions that allow people with an intellectual disability to buy their own homes,” Mr. Keys added.

In light of this issue, Project Independence – a unique, Australian-developed initiative – was formed to address the low rates of homeownership among this disadvantaged group.

The project allows people with an intellectual disability to buy property from their disability support pension. Under the scheme, the pension allowance will fund the operational costs for the home – for example, water, food and electricity bills – and the remainder will go towards equity.

When the participant is ready to sell their home, Project Independence will sell the property on their behalf to someone else who lives with an intellectual disability who wishes to commence their homeownership journey. The seller will keep all of the equity they paid, plus a percentage of the capital growth of the property they have sold.

“In an average six-year scenario, an individual under the group housing scheme would not have been able to save any money, whatsoever,” said Mr. Keys. “Under Project Independence, an individual could save $50-60,000 in the same period.”

So far, the fledgling model has built more than twenty homes, and within the next month it will start to build ten more, with more than 250 people currently on the waiting list.

“What we aim to do is truly empower people living with disability and give them the same opportunities as other, more advantaged, groups in society,” said Mr. Keys.

“What’s exciting is that we believe we could roll this out to every city in Australia and also expand the model into other disadvantaged groups, such as older women with no superannuation or savings; and families escaping domestic violence.

“If given the opportunity to scale the model, we believe we could revolutionise how social housing is developed in this country and get people who can afford to buy their own home, off the social housing waiting list and into home ownership.”

Glenn Keys is the co-founder and Executive Chairman of Canberra-based Aspen Medical, one of the world’s leading providers of outsourced healthcare solutions.

A passionate advocate of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Glenn has placed social responsibility and community involvement at the heart of Aspen Medical’s culture.

He is due to present at the National Disability Summit – to be held on 14-15 August in Melbourne.

Learn more and register.

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