Bellingen affordable housing project to start welcoming vulnerable women within six months

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Former residential care units for the elderly will be transformed into affordable housing for low-income elderly women in Bellingen, on the north coast of New South Wales.

The Royal Freemasons’ Benevolent Institution (RFBI) sites on Bowra and Watson streets will be reconstructed or renovated to create 40 apartments for women over 55.

RFBI Managing Director Frank Price brought the idea of ​​using the sites, which are no longer fit for purpose, to state and federal governments, which led to the $ 10 million joint housing project. .

“The real stress was that we had a potentially beautiful building that lay idle for four to five years when there was clearly a need for it,” said Price.

“Rather than selling them, we wanted to keep them for the community.”

The project comes as Bellingen grapples with a severe shortage of affordable housing, with the latest data from the Real Estate Institute of NSW showing regional rental vacancy rates have fallen below 1%.

Bellingen Housing Matters Action Group president Kerry Pearce hopes the increased housing stock is the start of making a difference for older women who are pushing for it locally.

Two buildings will be demolished and rebuilt, while the retirement home, which serves as a COVID testing center, will be renovated and ready for tenants within six months.

Frank Price (left) with MP Oxley Melinda Pavey and MP Cowper Pat Conaghan.(ABC Coffs Coast: Lauren Exton)

Oxley state member Melinda Pavey said she was frustrated with the time it took.

“I’m almost embarrassed to say it’s been almost two years [since being approached by Mr Price], said Ms Pavey.

“Sometimes I just wish it was a little easier to line up all our ducks in a row.”

At the local government level, Bellingen Shire Council chief executive Liz Jeremy said the councils needed to be more involved in discussions between state and federal governments on how to address the housing crisis in the Australian region.

“The stories of long-term tenant displacement is why we have worked so hard with the Freemasons and local MPs. We will deal with the development request as quickly as possible,” Ms. Jeremy said.

Cowper MP Pat Conaghan said once the project was brought to his attention, he made a commitment to see it through.

“The largest cohort of people currently at risk of becoming homeless are women over 55 who suffer from domestic violence,” he said.


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