Investing in a secure future for women
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At Women in Focus, we are great advocates for preventative financial security for women – and access to secure and affordable housing is a vital part of this.  

The fact is, females over the age of 55 now make up the fastest growing proportion of homeless people in Australia, which means there is an urgent need to support initiatives that promote housing access for women in this country.

One such initiative is Women’s Property Initiatives (WPI), a not-for-profit that works with the private, public and non-government sectors to provide affordable, safe, long-term homes for women in Melbourne – including older, single women and low income single mothers who have no viable option of home ownership.

Established in 1996 through a project funded by the Victorian State Government, WPI is managed by a voluntary board of women and headed by CEO Jeanette Large, who has 25 years’ experience in the housing and development sectors.

“With lower incomes, fewer opportunities and higher caring responsibilities limiting their time in the workforce, women in Australia currently face an inherent economic disadvantage when it comes to accessing secure and affordable housing,” Jeanette says.

“We provide a permanent solution to a long-term problem,” she says.

In addition to being the CEO of WPI, Jeanette is also a licensed estate agent and the CEO of Property Initiatives Real Estate, a social enterprise real estate agency that was established to create a revenue stream for WPI. The not-for-profit currently owns and manages a total of 82 homes for more than 200 women and children around Melbourne, with a net worth of $36 million.

“Many of the women we help have experienced family violence or are refugees fleeing conflict,” Jeanette says.

“Others are older women who have worked their whole lives, but simply can’t afford market rents.”

To ensure the housing WPI offers is as affordable as possible, tenants in receipt of low incomes and Centerlink are charged below market rent – that is, no more than 75 per cent of market rent or 30 per cent of household income – and absorbs the remainder.

As the video above shows, the security and stability of WPI housing creates long-lasting, positive effects on the lives of tenants, with a remarkable Social Return on Investment (SROI).

“There are a range of significant positive outcomes such as [improvements in] emotional wellbeing, personal safety, physical health, employment, increased social participation, better family relationships and improvements in education,” Jeanette says.

“Where there are children who’re also benefiting, these factors help to break the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage.”

To ensure the tenants are supported in their new housing, WPI also works with local government and community agencies to refer tenants to counselling, rehabilitation and support services.

But the not-for-profit isn’t just a social solution – it’s an economic one. “There’s a lot of research that shows the costs of providing stable, affordable housing are much lower than when we allow people to become homeless,” Jeanette says.

“For example, the costs of the detrimental effects that unstable housing has on physical and mental health.”

Jeanette acknowledges the important work of existing crisis and short-term housing services sheltering vulnerable women and WPI is designed to help them take the next step towards a stable future.

To date, the initiative has established its long-term housing stock through a variety of innovative projects, including cooperative partnerships with private housing developers and builders, Melbourne City Mission, the Matrix Guild and Berry Street; and the purchase of housing from private developers.

But there is more work to be done. Long-term affordable housing options for women in Australia are still in short supply – so to help boost the numbers, WPI is running the Building Futures campaign.

The goal is to raise $200,000, a figure that WPI estimates will allow for their next housing development: a multi-dwelling development housing up to 10 at-risk women and children. You can find out more about Women’s Property Initiatives and how to donate to the campaign, here.

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