TWO SIDES OF THE COIN – THE LAUNCH HOUSING PROJECT DEBATE (PART ONE)

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A resident’s perspective

By Kate Russell

I represent a large number of residents sharing concerns about the proposed Launch Housing development of 57 portable units, aimed at providing affordable housing for the homeless, concentrated over about 1.5 km in Ballarat Road, Footscray.

Firstly I would like to say that our group applauds and supports Launch Housing in their efforts to tackle homelessness, however we have some serious concerns with their approach – most of which are planning issues.

At the forefront of concern is parking. Usual parking requirements are being waived, with 
each site including little or no parking – far less than Maribyrnong City Council’s guidelines
 of one car space per unit plus some guest parking. Some building permits have already been approved, despite this lack of adequate parking. Residents in the Ballarat Road Footscray area already deal with demand exceeding availability for parking in their streets. Inadequate parking provision on the Launch Housing sites will force more cars onto already crowded streets, exacerbating this problem. At public forums on 31 January/2 February, Launch Housing representatives quoted their own survey, indicating the average rate of car ownership for
 units in Maribyrnong to be 0.4 cars per unit. Based on these Launch Housing figures, their development provides inadequate parking. It is also important to note, despite our requests, this survey has not been provided to us.

Launch Housing’s representatives also stated that prospective residents of their units cannot afford cars so parking is not an issue – a naïve, derogatory statement and a misrepresentation of fact. In contradiction, it was also described how many homeless people are sadly resorting to living in their cars.

Another major concern is accumulation and collection of garbage. There is no provision
 for a council bin per unit and, at the council planning meeting on 16 February, council representatives indicated that a (unsightly and unsanitary) garbage skip per site would be located on the footpath in Ballarat Road because sites could not accommodate them. The emptying of skips along busy Ballarat Road also appears highly impractical. Our many other concerns include unsafe rear laneway access and overlooking of neighbouring properties.

As well as submitting objections, including suggestions as to how the project could be adapted to deal with our concerns, many people from our group have attempted to contact Launch Housing and Maribyrnong City Council directly, with either inadequate generic responses or no responses at all.

This is disappointing because we believe that working with the community is integral to the long-term success of this experiment – and I use the term ‘experiment’ advisedly because a project of this kind, to this scale, has not been attempted before. A similar initiative is being undertaken by the Tiny Homes Foundation in Sydney; they are developing units comparable to those proposed by Launch Housing, over only two sites spaced roughly 13 km apart, with 4–6 units per site. We believe that to be a far more pragmatic approach – starting small on fewer sites with fewer units per site, then expanding based on the success of the project.

Ongoing support, and integration into the community, for people placed into these units is
 of high importance to our group. At the January/February public forums, Launch Housing’s representatives stated a ‘vetting’ process will be employed to decide ‘suitable’ residents for the units and that Launch Housing will manage any issues with tenants personally. However, when pressed, they could not provide details of this process or of any powers they have if issues with residents do arise.

We believe that housing a large number of people in such close proximity, in such tiny spaces has potential to create and amplify social issues.

We seek assurance that there is due process in place to deal with this.

We are asking that Launch Housing work more closely with the community and take our very real concerns on-board. We would ask that consideration be given to reducing the number of units per site and providing adequate parking and adequate allowance for garbage disposal and collection. All we ask of Maribyrnong City Council is to ensure that this development abides by Maribyrnong’s own planning laws, put in place to protect the community they represent and to preserve and improve our suburb.

Footscray is a wonderful and diverse suburb with a strong sense of community; we look forward to welcoming our new neighbours and Footscray’s newest residents.

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