Charette: Housing solutions to end homelessness

When the idea of a ‘charette’ was mentioned at the Shelter WA office it had some of us diving for our dictionaries. According to Oxford Languages, a charette is “a public meeting or workshop devoted to a concerted effort to solve a problem or plan the design of something”.

Charette taking place in August 2021, The Platform, Perth

Charette Outcomes Report

In this case the problem is not enough social housing.

Social housing makes up just 3.8 per cent of all housing stock in WA and there are over 18,000 households on the social housing waitlist (as of November 2021).

Design Charette

During Homelessness Week 2021, Shelter WA hosted a design charette to consider how government land could be utilised to increase the supply of social and affordable housing.

Ahead of the event, Shelter WA identified 30 government owned land and buildings for sale.

The workshop invited Perth’s leading architects and community housing providers to develop innovative design solutions for these sites that would deliver new social and affordable housing.

One of the identified sites. © Google Maps

Guest Speakers

The day began with some guest speakers who provided research and best practice insights for the workshop participants to consider in their designs.

Professor Steven Rowley from the School of Accounting, Economics and Finance at Curtin University presented a range of Housing First models from around the world. From America to Finland various models which had successfully delivered affordable housing into the Housing First model were shown to get the creative juices within the room flowing.

Guest speaker Trish Owen gave a lived experience perspective of housing. For her a transformation in her life came when given access to a community housing property. It provided stability when previously she had been living with her uncle or with friends with her then one-year-old daughter moving backwards and forwards.

Dominic Letts the Chief Operating Officer from Fleetwood Australia rounded out the presentations with a demonstration of the innovative work being done in modular building within their manufacturing operations. “One of the key benefits of modular building is speed, and when you have a constrained market getting new supply into the market is important and modular building can support that process,” Mr Letts said. “Modular building can deliver product outcomes between 20 and 50 per cent faster than conventional building techniques.”

“(The Charette was) a great opportunity to work with people that have skills that we don’t have to come up with some innovative solutions to house older people”

Luke Garswood, CEO Connect Vic Park

Design Teams

Before the planning began Shelter WA Chairperson Kieran Wong noted the assembled expertise within the room. “We are very delighted to have some of the brightest minds, sharpest pencils, all the metaphors in this room,” he said. “This is a killer set of name checking, it really is incredible.”

Ten teams participated on the day. In each team architects were paired with a community housing organisation. The teams were:

  • Foundation Housing + PHAB Architects.
  • Rise Network + MJA Studio.
  • Bethanie + Gresley Abas.
  • Co-operation Housing + spaceagency.
  • Indigo Junction + Richard Hammond Architect.
  • Connect Victoria Park + Hames Sharley.
  • Stellar Living + Whispering Smith.
  • Housing Choices + Studio Halton.
  • Salvation Army + Michelle Blakeley, Architect.
  • Uniting WA + Nic Brunsdon + ROAM Architects.

Roving Experts

Several roving experts were also in the room to guide the capabilities of the teams.

  • Amanda Shipton; Director, Align Strategy + Projects. Over more than 20 years Amanda has worked on strategic urban growth policy and planning and implementation projects across regional and metropolitan Western Australia. Her work includes the design and evaluation of government procurement processes for delivery of affordable housing projects.
  • Marion Thompson with over 40 years of planning experience was the Urban Development Coordinator for the Departments of Planning & Housing in WA. She is a member of the Statutory Planning Committee at the Western Australian Planning Commission.
  • John Gilmore; Senior Manager Innovation & Sustainability at Nicheliving. John has a wealth of experience looking at how intelligent design can be used to create affordable, quality, secure and long-term accommodation for people living with disabilities, the homeless or those at risk of homelessness.
  • Andrew Lefort an experienced local government planner developed an overview of each of the lazy land sites identified by Shelter WA.
    • Professor Steven Rowley; School of Accounting, Economics and Finance at Curtin University has spent 20 years conducting research in the areas of affordable housing, housing affordability and housing supply.
    • Dr Amity James; Senior Lecturer School of Accounting, Economics and Finance at Curtin University has an interest in housing for older people, housing affordability and housing policy. Her research has attracted national attention.
    • From DevelopmentWA John Clifton, Manager Strategy and Innovation and David McLoughlin, Design Manager gave their expert advice.
    • Geoff Barker; from PM+D Architects. Geoff runs a small architectural and planning consultancy specialising in community based projects where the end users and clients are engaged as “Partners in Development” rather than merely being the recipients of it.
    • Dr Adam Crowe participated via Zoom from Berlin. Dr Crowe recently completed his PhD at Curtin University and has been awarded the 2021 AHURI Postdoctoral Fellowship to examine innovation in Australia’s private rental sector.
    • John Berger; Executive Officer, WA Alliance to End Homelessness is a social worker with over 30 years’ experience. The former Chief Executive Officer at St Bart’s he is committed to ending homelessness in WA.
    • Trish Owen; Lived Experience Consultant has a thorough knowledge of the Residential Tenancies Act. She formulated the Make Renting Fair campaign which advocated for lived experience voices to be heard throughout all sectors and levels of the system.

“Delivering outcomes on Government land is absolutely essential to provide housing for people in need” Professor Steven Rowley, Curtin University

  • Dominic Letts; Chief Operating Officer, Fleetwood Australia. Mr Letts works with government departments, owners, architects and engineers to design and build custom modular buildings predominately for affordable housing industries.


The teams were asked to address the following in their designs:

  • Social housing delivery
  • Sustainability
  • Meeting a specific housing need
  • Strategies for overcoming delivery barriers

During the three hours. A potpourri of sketches, hand drawings, collages and 3D renderings began to emerge. As the hours ticked away demand for printing and coffee grew in equal measure.

Some drawings ended up on the floor as more and more elements were added outgrowing the space on large trestle tables. With presentations looming a procession of USB sticks were handed in so PowerPoint presentations could be shown to a review group.

“That important [lived experience] voice is being considered around each table and each design” Trish Owen, Lived Expereince Advocate

Review Group

Each team was given a strict four-minute window to present their design to the room. A review group of experts were invited to provide reflections on the design at the end of the presentations. The review group comprised of:

  • Dominic Letts; Chief Operating Officer, Fleetwood Australia,
  • Sandy Anghie; Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Perth and Architect,
  • Rebecca Moore; Government Architect
  • Trish Owen; Lived Experience Consultant.

Outcomes Report

The outcomes report outlines a series of key recommendations to be considered by the state government to increase housing supply which will support the WA Housing Strategy 2020 – 2030. This report has been delivered to the State Government. Shelter WA will continue to advocate for innovative solutions to deliver the social and affordable housing needed in WA.