An Australian-first housing model for people with a disability will be an invaluable Christmas gift for 20 people this year if progress remains on track.

The first sod was turned at Project Independence’s 10-place Harrison site on Friday to mark the beginning of construction, which should be completed in October.

Construction of the project’s Latham site, which will house 10 more residents, will begin in about four weeks.

Another perspective of the Project Independence development in Harrison

Another perspective of the Project Independence development in Harrison Photo: Supplied

Project director Glenn Keys expected both developments to open their doors to 20 people with a disability and two live-in co-ordinators, one for each site, by the festive period.

The ACT government has committed $3 million to the project, which was inspired by Mr Key’s son, Ehren, who has a disability and dreamt of owning his own home.

Additional social housing will also be built onsite.

A view from above  of the Project Independence development in Harrison.

A view from above of the Project Independence development in Harrison. Photo: Supplied

“We’re very, very excited how things are moving ahead,” Mr Keys said. “What we’ve really created here in Canberra is a first in Australia.”

Mr Keys, this year’s ACT Australian of the Year, said the Harrison site would consist of three houses containing four studio apartments, including one for the house co-ordinator and one spare room for guests.

A development application has been approved for the Latham development, made up of six townhouses with separate apartments housing the same number of people.

“We’re really excited, we’ve got a different design and structure there,” Mr Keys said.

“We’re all different, we all come to accommodation solutions on different paths. It’s about choice.”

A third site in Phillip is also on the horizon, with any funds remaining from the first two sites to trickle into its development.

“We’d like to make sure the money is secured this year so we can launch into the design and building in the new year,” Mr Keys said.

Demand for the model was strong, he said, with more than 70 expressions of interest for places at the first two sites and interstate interest as well.

Mr Keys praised the “innovative” business-government model and hoped the project might inspire the use of similar models elsewhere, as well as philanthropy among businesses of all sizes.

“I think we need to realise philanthropy in Australia is something every business can do,” he said. “There are whole pile of businesses and organisations in Canberra who are not of the Tuckwell or Twiggy Forrest size who have contributed to our success.”

Minister for Disability Joy Burch said the project would enable people, particularly with low support needs, to build economic independence.

Published in The Canberra Times: February 20, 2015  Emma Kelly