Why Common Ground Canberra matters

13 July 2015

The Chief Minister and I recently opened Common Ground in Gungahlin, a unique housing project designed to tackle homelessness in Canberra.

The ACT Government invested $13 million into the project, which provides 20 units for people experiencing homelessness, and a further 20 units offered as affordable rental accommodation.

We know homelessness is a problem across Australia, and Common Ground Canberra reaffirms the ACT government’s commitment to addressing homelessness and supporting those in need in our community.

Here in Canberra we have 29 individuals sleeping rough on our streets most nights and 1785 people were homeless on census night, with most of these people in supported accommodation.

At the same time the ACT Government also provides the highest rate of homelessness accommodation and the highest level of public and social housing – which is allocated to those most in need.

The aim of Common Ground is to end chronic homelessness.  It’s not a crisis service or shelter to homeless people – it’s a permanent housing solution.

Common Ground is different from traditional homelessness support services because it locates safe and secure accommodation directly with vital supports and services that are critical to helping tenants get the support they need to help break the cycle of homelessness. 


Building better public housing

Right now here in Canberra we are working on a once-in-a-generation renewal of our public housing stock with a $159 million commitment in this year’s budget to build new, modern homes that better meets tenants’ needs, now and into the future.

By the end of the four year program we will have renewed 10% of our total public housing stock – around 1,288 homes. 

We are doing this because Canberra has some of the oldest public housing in Australia and as these properties have aged, it has become more difficult to maintain them to current standards, such as energy efficiency and they no longer suit the needs of many tenants.

I believe housing is critically important for the ACT community’s overall social and economic well-being and the government is making these investments into housing and homelessness services because we believe no one should ever be homeless.

I've always been proud of Canberra's public housing story, as the prosperity of our city has grown, we've targeted public housing progressively more to those in greatest need and Common Ground is part of this work. 

That’s why I was especially honoured as Minister for Housing to have been there to welcome the tenants who have moved in and now call Common Ground their home.

Community support

On Saturday 11 April Common Ground had its first open day and lots of people came along and showed their support. This engagement is one of the main elements of Common Ground’s success.

We’ve seen tremendous support from the Gungahlin Community Council and the people who live in Gungahlin which underlines the importance our Canberra community places on supporting those in need.

Yes it’s a government initiative but with significant support from residents, businesses and organisations in the area and shows us how much we can make a difference when we work together.

I want to thank IKEA and the Snow Foundation for their generous donations and support as well as the significant community support from groups like the Canberra Quilters, the Uniting Church Gungahlin, the Majura Men’s Shed, the Orana Steiner School, the CWA, and many other generous community donors.

I must particularly thank the board of Common Ground Canberra, Northside Community Service and Argyle Community Housing for their hard work and commitment. 

When talking about passion and commitment to Common Ground I must especially acknowledge Liz Dawson, I know just how proud she would have been to see Common Ground officially opened.

Liz was a long-time Labor Party member and advocate for Common Ground. I know she wouldn’t ask for the attention but I believe it’s important to recognise her contribution. Thank you Liz.

There is a memorial plaque near the letter boxes that will be a lasting reminder of her effort and passion to help those in need in our community.

Providing individual support

Above all, the opening of Common Ground is important because it’s a new approach to addressing homelessness here in Canberra.

Common Ground isn’t a homeless crisis service or shelter – it’s a permanent housing solution that shifts people directly from homelessness, providing accommodation and the support people need to stay housed, improve their health and live independently.

It locates safe and secure accommodation directly with these vital supports and services that are critical to helping tenants get one on one support they need to help break the cycle of homelessness.

It’s a model that’s been successful overseas and in other Australian states and we’ve been able to learn a lot from how them.

For example, we learned it’s important for the tenancy manager and support provider to be engaged early in the construction process to provide ideas and input into the design form and assist in the development.

We’ve done that and I congratulate Argyle Community Housing as tenancy manager and Northside Community Service as support provider in working together for the benefit of all the residents of Common Ground.

Community Services Directorate staff worked closely with the architects and the Common Ground Canberra group to align the policies and processes to make sure they were focused on best supporting the people that would call Common Ground their home.

Common Ground tenants will also be encouraged to contribute to management decisions – similar to apartment owners in a Body Corporate - as one means of fostering independence.

Building an even stronger and more supportive community into the future


I think it’s a great measure of our city's character that we continue to invest to provide vital housing and homelessness services for those who need them most and that these works receive so much community support.

As well as providing safe and accessible homes for those who need them most this investment flows through in savings and benefits across our community.

I look forward to continuing to working with the community to build an even stronger and more supportive community into the future.