Triple-bottom line housing project

By Lucinda Dean

Latrobe City Council in Victoria has an award-winning idea to spark new life into the Valley’s ageing public housing estates while providing training and employment in building construction to the region’s long-term unemployed.
The council’s “Our Future Our Place” project will build low-cost, environmentally friendly houses for private sale on vacant blocks within former public housing estates of the Latrobe Valley.

The public housing estates date back to 1946 when they were built to accommodate the coal mine and power plant workers. Building continued until the mid 1960s, with a second wave of public housing construction occurring in the 1980s.

Vacant lots have proliferated like weeds within the former estates as a result of old and irreparable public housing stock being demolished and not replaced.

The Latrobe Valley, which generates 90 per cent of Victoria’s electricity, was hit hard by the privatisation of the state’s electricity industry in the early 1990s. More than 10,000 jobs were lost resulting in soaring unemployment, low housing prices and huge vacancy rates in commercial centres. The local economy has started to pick up in the last three to four years with investment in major regional projects including Australia Paper’s $1 million upgrade to its pulping facility, the Hazelwood line extension and new technologies around brown coal power generation.

Latrobe City Council’s CEO Paul Buckley says the local building industry was ramping up again as a result of renewed economic activity but finding it difficult to employ qualified builders. The council worked with the industry to develop a training program with Try Youth and Community Services as the training provider and project manager.

Long-term unemployed local residents will be engaged to work on the construction of the new houses under the workforce participation scheme (formerly known as ‘work for the dole’) while studying towards Construction Certificate 2 during the 26-week course. This will enable participants to gain the basic requirements necessary to work on construction sites.

Two houses have been completed and sold at public auction since the project began in 2003. Mr Buckley says the employment outcomes have been positive with more than 60 per cent of participants obtaining employment in the construction and allied industries.

The new houses, which Mr Buckley says far exceed the requirements of the Victorian 5-star energy efficiency standard, are not only a showcase for sustainable living but will breathe new life into Latrobe’s four neighbourhood renewal communities.

“By integrating private and public housing, you start to get a mix of socio-economic demographics into neighbourhoods,” he says.
“That provides further diversity and integration within neighbourhoods.”

The “Our Future Our Place” project is a partnership with the private sector, Try Youth and Community Services, the Department of Human Services (Victoria), the Department for Victorian Communities and the Commonwealth Government’s Department of Transport and Regional Services. It recently won an International City / County Management Association (ICMA) Community Partnership Award. The award is for community partnerships in municipalities with populations greater than 50,000 that engage all levels of government and the private sector. Latrobe City Council was the only winner in the 2007 Program Excellence Awards scheme from outside the USA.

Mr Buckley says the beauty of the project is that it is self-sustaining. Any profit generated from the sale of the houses goes back into funding the project. So far the council has managed to break even but Mr Buckley says it expects future houses will make a modest profit that can be ploughed back into the project.

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