Ausnew Home Care | Project Independence creating pathway to home ownership for people with intellectual disabilities in Canberra

Project Independence creating pathway to home ownership for people with intellectual disabilities in Canberra

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From his Canberra Raiders bedspread to his own basketball awards, Ehren Keys's home is a shrine to sport.

Decorating his unit however he sees fit is just one of the perks of independent living.

"I like to hang out with my mates, and I watch the TV and I play [videogames]," Ehren said.

"I've got a happy life."

Ehren is one of 10 residents at the third development in Canberra for people with intellectual disabilities, built by the not-for-profit social enterprise Project Independence.

He moved into his new home a few weeks ago, just ahead of his 30th birthday.

It is a life his father, businessman and Project Independence co-founder Glenn Keys, always wanted for his son.

But the statistics were stacked against it.

A dark haired man with glasses plays a video game on a Wii.
Ehren is enjoying living independently, including his ability to play video games in his own home.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

"If you have an intellectual disability in this country, you have the lowest rate of home ownership of any sector," Mr Keys said.

"That's never been more important than today when home ownership is something on the lips of every single person in Australia."

That dilemma drove Mr Keys to help start up the not-for-profit.

"We realised there was an urgent need for more social housing properties," he said.

Giving people with an intellectual disability home ownership opportunity

Project Independence
An artist's impression of the first Project Independence shared housing facility, which was built in Canberra's north just under 10 years ago.(Supplied)

Mr Keys said the issue was brought up personally when his family were moving into a new home.

"I'd asked Ehren if he could give me hand to unpack some boxes [and] he said 'I can't, I'm very busy'.

"I said 'What are you so busy on?'. He said 'I'm designing the house that I want to buy when I leave home.'

"I had naturally assumed that our other two children would buy their own home – but not our son with a disability."

Mr Keys said that prompted Project Independence to change their business model.

"We work with people by taking a percentage of people's disability pension – a percentage of that goes towards the operational cost of running Project Independence and the rest goes toward their equity in home ownership," he said.

"When they're ready to sell and move out of Project Independence – into more independent living – we sell on their behalf to another person with an intellectual disability.

"They get back all the equity they've paid in, plus a percentage of the capital growth.

"It really is giving people with an intellectual disability that home ownership opportunity that every Australian dreams of."

Demand to expand model to other disadvantaged groups, other jurisdictions 

A dark haired man with glasses plays a video game on a Wii.
Ehren moved into his unit just before his 30th birthday.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Project Independence has now completed three developments in Canberra – designed to be safe and accessible with a live-in resident coordinator.

A fourth complex is being refurbished in Melbourne and the social enterprise has partnered with a developer in Sydney to secure a property for disadvantaged groups – scheduled for completion in 2026.

There's strong demand, with more than 50 people on the wait list in the ACT and 200 in Victoria.

"We are not a panacea to all social housing ills. We are another pathway – a new pathway," Mr Keys said.

"What's exciting is that we've shown that this model works for the most disadvantaged homeowners in Australia – people with an intellectual disability – but other disadvantaged homeowners [as well].

"We're going to be expanding the project independence model out to support older women with no superannuation or savings and women and families escaping domestic violence.

"We're currently talking to the federal government about setting up an impact investment fund that would see us be able to roll this out at scale to do up to 2,000 homes across Australia for all of those disadvantaged homeowner groups."

Until then, Mr Keys hopes Project Independence will continue to broaden the horizons of people with intellectual disabilities, like Ehren.

"When I see him interacting with the other residents, when I see him going to and from his place of work, when I see him set up so well in his home – I'm very, very proud of him."


Source: ABC

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