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Unlocking empty buildings to fight homelessness

Robert Pradolin, founder of Housing All Australians, 
speaks at TEN Women's fundraising event in March.

Homelessness is a growing problem in Australia.

In Australia Reimagined, social researcher Hugh Mackay writes: “We have become a nation replete with spare rooms and also, according to the 2016 census, with unoccupied dwellings: more than one million of them stood empty on census night – that’s 11 per cent of our total housing stock. Meanwhile, about 100,000 Australians are homeless.”

The good news is that a number of organisations are working together to help address the housing crisis by unlocking the potential of empty buildings.

Former property developer Robert Pradolin founded Housing All Australians (HAA) to harness the power of the private sector to address the chronic shortage of affordable housing. It was his idea to covert an empty nursing home in South Melbourne into a shelter for homeless women aged 55 and over.

The Lakehouse is Victoria’s first pop-up housing project, and a prime example of council, community groups, private organisations and governments working together to develop an innovative solution to homelessness.

Mr Pradolin believes similar projects could be implemented across the country. It does not make sense to leave buildings empty when we have a housing crisis,” he says.

The nursing home, owned by CaSPA Care, was sitting vacant, since plans for its development had stalled. Port Philip Council negotiated an agreement to rent the building to YWCA, an organisation that helps women on low incomes find affordable housing. Local businesses joined forces to clean, renovate and furnish the building, while food was provided by a social enterprise company.

While housing affordability affects everyone, women over 50 are the fastest growing group of Australians experiencing homelessness, due to reasons such as divorce, pay inequity, inadequate superannuation, time off work to raise children, and domestic violence.

Unfortunately, the Lakehouse can only accommodate 38 women. The YWCA estimates that it has to turn away 85% of the women who apply for housing.

And while temporary accommodation can be a circuit breaker, allowing people to settle, find work, and hopefully transition into affordable long-term housing, it is only part of the solution.

Mr Pradolin believes that affordable housing for all Australians is fundamental to our long-term economic prosperity. “We have to be building much more social, affordable housing that the private market does not deliver," he said.

The story of the Lakehouse not only demonstrates the huge opportunities offered by vacant buildings, but also the property industry’s resolve to act on this issue. A recent fundraiser by TEN Women (a high-profile group of 10 women in the property industry) raised $250,000 to help HAA build more pop-up homeless shelters for older women. Read more about this event

This story is adapted from Facility Perspectives, Vol 13 No 2.