Affordable housing: The Fulcrum Agency, Shelter WA
What role can architects have in this space? How do we leverage our skills? Advocating for an effective housing system that is culturally responsive and suited to climate.
The Fulcrum Agency | Keiran Wong | Chairperson Shelter WA
When Emma Williamson and I met we both recognised that we were driven by a shared sense of purpose, set of values and a desire to be useful. We set up the Fremantle-based practice CODA Studio straight after university and developed four words to guide the business – be useful, generous, joyful and stealthy. These principles proved incredibly useful as our business morphed from a studio of two to a medium-sized practice. Over the years, our practice has taken many forms – from initially thinking that we could use design to deliver solutions to realising that through our own influence we could support communities in their own ambitions and desires.
In our current venture, The Fulcrum Agency, we are recasting our approach and building a practice driven by a desire to re-learn something about our country, to find ways of using our skills as problem solvers, and to support others. We remain curious and try to work behind the scenes wherever possible – an extension of our stealthiness at CODA perhaps, but also a recognition that the title of architect can constrain conversation more than it opens it up. Our recasting as an agency is both deliberate and provocative – a call to arms for ourselves and team to re-learn what it means to seek justice.
I am now the chair of Shelter WA, the peak body advocating for an effective housing system in Western Australia. Shelter WA brings together community services, housing providers, government, academia, the private sector and people with lived experience of housing insecurity to further the vision of an effective, affordable housing system that ends homelessness in Western Australia. Our members include the Community Housing Sector – a mature, sophisticated and networked player in social housing, with an ever increasing capability to deliver both housing and long-term outcomes.
“So, what are the basic facts around Housing in WA today?
- There are over 15,700 households are on the social housing wait list – that’s around 30,000 West Australians.
- Around 9,000 people experience homelessness on any given night, 1,000 of which are sleeping rough.
- International research shows around 80% of people who are homeless are in this situation because they are poor and housing is unaffordable to them – only 20% require very intensive housing and support services.
- On this point it is important to note that less than 1% of WA rentals are affordable for people with low incomes, and this is actually zero in certain regions of our state.
- There is a shortfall of 39,200 social and 19,300 affordable homes across Western Australia to meet current need.
- In the last three years there has been a decrease in social housing stock in WA of over 1,100 homes. The current government investment packages into social housing will only deliver 870 new social homes – so we are going backwards in supply of social housing.” (unlockhousing.com.au)
These are sobering and startling facts but they don’t speak to the human cost of this crisis. With the ending of the moratorium on rent increases and evictions, and the lack of both social and affordable private housing, Shelter members are seeing a tsunami of people under severe housing stress and facing homelessness. Frontline services are receiving calls from people facing eviction, many of whom have never before been in contact with welfare services. Our members are deeply concerned about the mental health impacts on individuals and families, the impact on children and their welfare, and the impact on their staff as they struggle to find housing for people. What we are seeing for the first time is that housing affordability is becoming a mainstream issue, impacting people across the entire state.
What role can architects have in this space? How do we leverage our skills? Of course, we should never overplay our importance or underestimate the impact that the justice and health systems have on people’s lives and ability to maintain a home. But what we can do is think seriously about the types of projects we select and put our energy towards.
These are questions and continuous dialogues that Emma and I have every day, with every project opportunity, and in every situation we find ourselves. Despite the constant reflection and trepidation of our practice, one thing remains certain – our work must seek justice and be underpinned by the belief that everyone has the right to call a place home.
Kieran Wong is an architect active in advocating for social and affordable housing. He is the co-founder and partner of The Fulcrum Agency and chairperson of Shelter WA.