Affordable housing is a critical issue in Australia and the Gillard government, in partnership with the states and territories, is deeply committed to providing affordable, appropriate and flexible social housing. Given the relative affluence of Canberra, many in this place may not consider housing affordability and homelessness to be a particular problem here and I acknowledge that we are fortunate to be below the Australian average when it comes to homelessness. However, this does not mean we are immune from today's housing and homelessness challenges. Canberra has some of the highest rental prices in the country. We also have some of the lowest levels of rental availability. In fact, housing and housing affordability are by far the main issues on which I am contacted by constituents in need of assistance— mainly by women. Each week my office helps many Canberrans who are struggling to find a place to live and build a life and a home.
The 2006 census showed that there were 1,364 homeless people in the ACT, which equates to 42 homeless per 10,000. Of this figure, 22 per cent were aged between 12 and 18 and six per cent were sleeping rough. Irrespective of whether this is below the national average or not, I do not believe it is acceptable. Every Australian deserves a home and both the Gillard and the ACT governments are doing a commendable job on helping people with that. Having a home is something so basic and yet so powerful in determining your future, especially if you are a child and going through the formative stages of your life. The experiences of your early childhood form the prism through which you see the world. If you know that you have a safe, secure and inviting place to return to at the end of your day it makes everything seem more possible.
Having access to secure, affordable housing is no less important in the later years of life. Being able to enjoy retirement and one's family in a suitable place to call home should be a great pleasure. Older members of the community should not be forced to worry or stress about a place to stay, nor should they feel they are a burden on their families. For this reason, I have been very pleased to be able to attend a number of openings in the ACT of new older-persons units. These are units that have been funded though the Gillard government's $5.6 billion Social Housing Initiative, in partnership with state and territory governments— the single largest investment in social housing ever undertaken by an Australian government.
As part of this partnership in the ACT, building has begun on 421 approved dwellings, with over 280 of these already completed. The units provide age appropriate accommodation for older people in the community, and free up larger social houses for families. So it is win-win. The units mean older members of the Canberra community can continue to live independently and with dignity in a space they can call their own—usually around their social network in their former suburb and in six-star energy rated homes built to universal design principles.
The most recent opening occurred in the suburb of Rivett in my electorate where I was fortunate to join with the ACT Minister for Housing and Community Services, Joy Burch, to open 60 units. I have also opened new units in complexes in Curtin, Conder and Bonython. Once complete, the Rivett complex will have 69 two- and three-bedroom units as well as a community centre and there are community centres in some of the other complexes as well, so it is about not just living spaces but also community space. The complex was funded jointly by a $10.7 million grant from the Gillard government, with the ACT government contributing the land as well as a further $5.1 million.
I really enjoyed being able to see how these units had been turned into homes in a very short amount of time. In a matter of weeks, proud new resident Judith Young had made her new space her home. She had photos of family and loved ones on the wall and a fantastic garden with pots and outdoor art. Many of the other residents are using this opportunity to move from an older home into a brand-new home, to get new curtains and new furniture and to make a welcoming space. Judith's home was a place that looked like it had been lived in for years with comfort and love and family, even though it had only been a matter of weeks.
Safety and shelter are the fundamentals that underpin self-esteem, confidence and achievement. I am extremely proud of the historically significant investment the Gillard government has made to provide thousands of Australians with a home, and through it the opportunity to actively participate in society.