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19 October 2016 at 8:26 am
Ellie Cooper
Homelessness services and affordable housing are inextricably linked, but few organisations combine the two, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.

Ellie Cooper | 19 October 2016 at 8:26 am


Home Safe Home
19 October 2016 at 8:26 am

Homelessness services and affordable housing are inextricably linked, but few organisations combine the two, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.

Social enterprise Haven; Home, Safe (HHS) became Victoria’s first Affordable Housing Association in 2005, creating new housing options for people in need.

It’s also said to be one of the only organisations providing an integrated continuum of homelessness and other support services along with affordable housing.

HHS, trading as Loddon Mallee Housing Services, was established 23 years ago by CEO Ken Marchingo in response to a need for emergency accommodation – and it’s grown from there.

With a head office in Bendigo, as well as five other offices across Victoria, HHS has 150 staff and a $27 million operating budget.

“We assist people who are homeless or in housing crisis,” acting CEO Trudi Ray said.

“We’re cross targeted so we will basically help anyone who comes through our door, so not specifically drug or alcohol, or women etc.

“Primarily [we help] people over the age of 21, but in saying that we will assist youth.

“And we have a variety of different support programs, so families at risk we support, we also have staff going to local prisons and doing some housing support for prisoners for when they’re released.”

HHS offers more than 20 different service elements, which include these additional support processes.

“If someone’s in our transitional housing management then we wrap the support services around them, and that’s about giving them a variety of different support,” Ray said.

“Whether it’s linking them into counselling or linking them into medical, linking them into education, and working with them to find a sustainable, long-term solution.”

Ray explains why it’s essential to combine affordable housing with homelessness services.

“Having the support in our own agency, and the skills and the expertise and the experience to do that, holds us in really good stead to actually understand that, yes, housing is an issue and housing affordability is an issue, but homelessness itself has so much complexity within it that you need to be really mindful of the support people need to sustain long-term housing, and that’s why we have support programs as well,” she said.

“It’s important in terms of regional Victoria as well to have almost, for want of a better term, a one-stop solution for our clients coming in.

“One thing you find is a lot of [people] go to different services to try to find access into different support services, where we can assist with that one solution.”

Ray says HHS is regularly assessing its social impact.

As an Affordable Housing Association, the social enterprise is required to report annually on its ability to meet the demand of its services.

“In terms of contacts and people entering our services, in Bendigo alone we see up to 5,000 people per year in terms of those entering the service with crisis,” she said.

“In our metro office that number would most likely be almost double.

“We absolutely do see a number of people, our offices are always full, all of our bookings are always full and we obviously have a crisis element where we would see people who are in crisis.

“Because we have an office in Melbourne and one in Geelong, Bendigo which is the head office, Mildura, Echuca, Robinvale, we do carry services right across the state.

“From a housing perspective we have 1,600 properties either they’re THM, so transitional housing properties, or they’re our own affordable housing properties. So with that, I think our numbers are well up around 500 families plus mark.”

Nevertheless, Ray says affordable housing is one of the major challenges when it comes to entrenched disadvantage.

She draws on the Infrastructure Victoria 30-year strategy document, which recommended 30,000 new affordable homes be created in the next 10 years.

“One of the top recommendations, number three, was on affordable housing, that being a priority for government,” she said.

“It didn’t go into the complex social issues of why people are homeless or why housing is an issue, but from an infrastructure perspective we’re 30,000 properties down… in terms of having enough supply to meet the demand.

“The affordability issue is certainly there. I think in Melbourne alone, research… stated unless your earning capacity is around $100,000 there’s no way you’re even going to get into the property market.

“So for many people it’s not achievable. We once always talked about the great Australian dream, well it’s not for many, many families.

“So housing is absolutely an issue in terms of the affordability of it, the access to properties, about the vulnerability of where the properties are.”

She says the location of properties is something HHS always considers.

“Primarily public housing in the past has been in an enclave of disadvantage because they’ve all been in one area,” she said.  

“We’re really mindful that for people to make the most of their situation and be able to get some life changes, it’s really important that all properties are within communities in which they can learn and develop and see different experiences.

“To put a group of people who are all vulnerable in the one circumstance, obviously it doesn’t always work out for the best.

“The fact that housing in Australia is unreachable for so many is really concerning.”

Offering affordable housing provides HHS with some income to supplement its operational costs.

The organisation offers discounted rent across three tiers, ensuring no tenant ever spends more than 30 per cent of their income on rent – which is considered to be the threshold of housing stress.

“If they’re on statutory income they get a 30 per cent reduction, if they’re on medium it’s 20 per cent and if they’re on the top level it’s 10 per cent off market rent,” Ray said.

“So any rent that we generate obviously pays for the properties. When we were actually funded to build our affordable housing it was 75 per cent of government and we had to take 25 per cent and… get finance for that, so we have a loan with Community Sector Banking, so we obviously have to pay that back, but it does generate money.

“And obviously we have maintainance, so we spend a lot of money on maintenance per year to ensure that the asset is maintained and the stock is obviously of a standard in which we’re happy to have our residents in.”

HHS also runs other social enterprise initiatives to generate income, including a new venture called Hive.  

“It’s a non-trade maintenance program internally… it was formed in our metro office and the purpose was to engage the people who would struggle to gain employment,” Ray said.

“So we’ve hired them for non-trade maintenance, and that’s mowing lawns, cleaning them up, getting all the rubbish to tips. So that’s something else in which we’re looking to grow.”

Ray says the organisation is always looking for opportunities to grow its services and housing supply, and it’s one of the key priorities of the board.

In the past three months HHS has been busy responding to tenders from the Victorian Government.

The first was a rapid housing family violence tender, in which HHS was successful.

“We have been provided some funding to either spot purchase or build properties for women needing to access different accommodation solutions,” Ray said.

“We’re currently in the process of buying 21 different properties throughout the state, so we’ve got some in Geelong, Warrnambool and all the way up through Bendigo through to the Mallee.

“We’ll be working with local family violence integrated networks on selecting women and children to go into those properties.”

It’s also secured funding for rapid housing homelessness services, which is cross targeted, and HHS will collaborate with other local support agencies in the delivery.

“While we have the support programs in Bendigo and some in the Mallee, not all of our offices have the support component,” Ray said.

“Geelong for example has affordable housing, they have 264 properties in that area, but we don’t have any support services. So we… work in partnership with other support agencies to assist clients when required.”

She said the final tender response HHS is working on is for the Private Rental Assistance Program, which is the state government’s latest early prevention initiative to sustain and maintain people in the private rental market.

The organisation is hoping to use allocated government funding to assist people who are “housing ready” to enter the private rental market.

“There’s a lot of people out there who can access private rentals, probably would be quite successful within private rental, but for reasons can’t afford the bond or can’t afford rent in advance, can’t afford to connect electricity, all those sorts of things,” Ray said.

“So this private rental assistance program would actually help us to support those clients who come in, who we know would be able to sustain private rental and work with the real estate agent, advocating together for sustainable options.

“And that would actually help ease the congestion of our transitional housing in the sense that we have a lot of people within that program who could access private rental… and then would provide access for our more vulnerable and homeless people to be able to access properties.”

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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