Almost 60 new social housing units will be built in Footscray and Maidstone to house the homeless after the state government used its powers to fast-track the project.
Launch Housing last year submitted plans with Maribyrnong council to locate 57 new relocatable homes on nine Ballarat Road sites owned by VicRoads.
Maribyrnong councillors unanimously granted approval for the $5 million project, but residents applied to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to block the roll-out of 27 of the units on four land parcels – effectively stopping the proposal in its tracks.
Planning Minister Richard Wynne used his powers to “call in” the project before it reached VCAT on the basis that the proceedings involved a major issue of policy – using surplus government land for social housing.
Star Weekly can exclusively reveal that Mr Wynne will confirm his backing of the proposal on Wednesday (November 1).
“This project is too important to be stymied by delays at VCAT,” he says in a prepared statement. “We’ve fast-tracked the process to ensure the dwellings can be built and community concerns are addressed.”
A two-person advisory committee held a public hearing in August and submitted its report to Mr Wynne in September.
Opponents of the project argued that the housing was of poor quality and would lead to the stigmatisation of residents.
They told the committee that locating the 57 units along a 650-metre stretch of Ballarat Road would form an intensive cluster with a “trailer park appearance” and create social division.
But committee chair Alison Glynn and member John Glossop found the proposal was unlikely to create an enclave of disadvantage, “let alone a ‘ghetto’”.
They recommended the planning minister approve the permits with conditions including changes to landscaping, fence heights and waste management.
Housing minister Martin Foley said Mr Wynne’s intervention means the project will no longer be bogged down by delays.
“We’re making the most of the land we already have available now to provide vital housing for those who need it most. These dwellings will be high quality and easy to move if needed.”
Philanthropists Brad and Geoff Harris have donated $4 million towards the units, which will be located on parcels of VicRoads land along Ballarat Road earmarked for future road widening.
VicRoads has leased the vacant land to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which has sub-leased the sites to Launch Housing for an initial five-year period.
Launch Housing deputy chief executive Heather Holst said opponents had been afforded all of the normal opportunities to object “and then some”.
“It’s been our experience that the best thing we can do is make the project really good, and in a couple of years’ time everyone will just think it is a normal part of the landscape,” she said.
“We will keep ourselves answerable.”
Ms Holst said the delay has added to the cost of their proposal and pushed back any possible start date into the new year.
Helen, a member of Launch Housing’s Lived Experience Advisory Group, said stable housing such as that proposed was a crucial step in her journey from homelessness.
“It’s not just ‘here’s your home and bye-bye’… Launch will be continue to support people,” she said.
“You want to respect the property you are living in. I don’t think neighbourhoods need to be concerned.
“There isn’t a lot of housing available for people who find themselves homeless. Anyone can find themselves homeless; it’s not always the person you think it might be.”
VicRoads land and property manager Lee Dobson said the project is helping some of the most vulnerable members of the community.
“This is a great chance to do our part for the people who need us most, and it’s a project very close to our heart,” he said.
“We jumped at the opportunity to get involved, and hope the project makes a difference to people who really need a break.”
Maribyrnong mayor Catherine Cumming said she understands if opponents are upset that the matter was not heard by VCAT, but that final decision making on planning will always rest with the state government.