By Mikayla van Loon
With affordable housing becoming more scarce particularly in Lilydale, some of the most vulnerable in our community – people with disabilities – are being pushed into unacceptable living situations.
But after eight years of planning and building Melba Support Services, in collaboration with Community Housing Limited (CHL), opened 15 specialist units on Anderson Street on Thursday 29 September which will house up to 27 people with varying disabilities.
“The significance of this launch is to show that when people come together, the unachievable can be achieved,” Melba CEO Hayley Dean said.
“We all know the shortage of housing and in particular for people with a disability…but having a home is fundamental to living a great life.”
The project, which began with Melba acquiring a 3,220 sqm patch of land from the St Andrews Uniting Church in early 2014, was the vision of Melba life governor Nan Stevenson and former CEO Glenn Foard.
Lilydale was where Melba originated from, hosting some of its first meetings at the Uniting Church creating a nice return to its roots.
Ms Dean also said having specialist disability accommodation (SDA) properties within the base suburb for Melba means people who use its services are located nearby, in a community they are familiar with.
“For many of the people that we support, it means they can actually live where they’ve grown up, or where their friends are or where their family is, so they can stay within their community in the greater community and that’s been extraordinary to see,” she said.
“Some people, for the first time in their lives, are actually choosing where they live and choosing who they live with, which is fantastic.”
CHL managing director Steve Bevington said as one of the leading community and social housing builders across the country, CHL has a commitment to providing accessible housing to people with disabilities.
“The data is alarming around inadequate housing for Australians living with a disability, in some cases younger people are living in aged care facilities due to the lack of suitable housing options,” he said.
“We are proud that our partnership with Melba Support Services is delivering appropriate and long-term housing and addressing inequalities.”
Having also helped Melba build SDA properties in Mount Evelyn and Mooroolbark, Mr Bevington said it was important to locate these homes in normal streets, with access to facilities nearby.
“You would never be able to distinguish them from a neighbouring house. It was always important for ourselves to blend with the community,” he said.
“So we had to go out and find locations which were close to services and easy for people with disabilities to live a normal life.”
Building 30 to 40 per cent of the sector’s housing Australia-wide, with a portfolio of 1700 houses being built in Victoria alone, Mr Bevington said he’d like to see the partnership with Melba grow.
“This was a chance to continue the relationship [with Melba] and we now have a flourishing relationship that is expanding, way beyond Lilydale, Mount Evelyn and the Yarra Ranges to provide support services more broadly in Victoria.”
Mr Bevington said had Melba and CHL’s initial partnership not begun 25 years ago it would be a very different scenario for people needing social housing in this country.
With people already moved into their independent living situations at the Anderson Street development, Ms Dean said it has been such a joy to see and hear their stories over the last few months.
“For myself who doesn’t have a disability, we often take having a home for granted,” she said.
“Home is so fundamental to everything that you do and specifically in disability, people never really had much of a choice, they had no choice.
“I think it’s just a basic human right. It’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of food, shelter, warmth, everybody has the right to that.”