Comment: Community Housing in South Melbourne and Port

We view housing as a human right and this value is reflected in everything we do, write Mary Anne Noone (Chair) and Bill Joyce (Deputy Chair) of the South Port Community Housing Group.

The lack of housing options for many people in the lowest income groups - particularly marginalised single adults and youth, and the risk of growing levels of homelessness and social exclusion - are currently the issues of prime concern to the South Port Community Housing Group.

We view housing as a human right and this value is reflected in everything the organisation does. We seek to secure, long term tenancies for the most disadvantaged and connecting marginalised people to local services, facilities and opportunities.

These outcomes are achieved through provision of quality housing; sensitive and compassionate tenancy management and support; providing its tenants with opportunities to ‘get involved’; researching and distributing information about local services and opportunities; and developing more housing as every opportunity presents.

South Port Community Housing Group is a not-for-profit, charitable, community based, registered housing provider operating exclusively in the City of Port Phillip. Operating primarily as a contractor to the State Government via leases and services funding agreements, South Port runs two programs.

One is community housing management of 283 tenancies across 27 distinct buildings, 15 of which are multi-unit 1-bedroom or studio apartment buildings and 12 of which are houses and flats accommodating family units.

The other is a Specialist Homelessness Service providing case managed support services to young people aged 16-25 experiencing homelessness.

Having a supportive local Council that values this commitment and the efforts to house the most vulnerable in a way that can build connections and community, is vital

The South Port Community Housing Group strongly supports the City of Port Phillip’s leadership role in supporting and advocating for increased social housing in the municipality and believes this is best done by undertaking consultation, including with all the local housing organisations and services, about the most appropriate response to homelessness in the municipality.

It is important to highlight that we are, by choice, registered with the State Government as a Housing Provider, not a Housing Association. Tenant referrals come exclusively from homelessness agencies. Housing Providers do not have permission to charge a rent in excess of 25% of tenant’s income unlike Housing Associations. South Port receives no management fees for the properties it manages and depends entirely on the rental income it receives to deliver its services. We allocate a significant proportion of this income to supporting our (mostly very vulnerable and socially isolated) tenants and developing a community that encourages social connection and participation in group activities.

A history of compassion

South Port Community Housing Group is one of the three local Community Housing organizations that provide Social Housing in the City of Port Phillip, a municipality with a long and proud history in providing services for people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.  South Port has been in operation since 1983 and shares long historical ties to the City of Port Phillip: our founding organisations were the Cities of Port Melbourne and South Melbourne and the local Uniting Church. The two other Community Housing providers - St Kilda Community Housing and Housing First were founded in the former City of St Kilda.

The formation of the South Port Rooming House Committee (as the organisation was then known) in 1983, happened in response to three factors:

The numbers of single person households being displaced by rapid gentrification and the sale and conversion of local rooming houses, pubs, bungalows and other forms of affordable singles housing;

The existence of two State Government owned rooming houses on the Emerald Hill Estate that had been acquired by Government several years earlier;

The election of the Cain State Government, which was committed to social programs and public housing and created a Rooming House Program within the bureaucracy in the early 1980s.

Opportunities grew quickly in the 1980s and early 90s, with the organisation taking on head-leases of 13 State-owned rooming houses with tenancy numbers totalling around 170. In response to growing numbers of homeless young people locally, a Youth Housing Program began in 1985 and received State funding in 1986.

In 2002 South Port won a State Government tender to manage a new property of 41 one-bedroom flats the state Office of Housing (OOH) was building at 306 Dorcas Street.

Since 2009, in partnership with OOH, and out of concern for the high turnover and demonstrable lack of safety in rooming houses, South Port has successfully achieved eight rooming house conversions. The organisation made this a priority and devoted significant time and resources to making the conversions happen over a six-year period. 106 rooms in those eight rooming houses were reduced to 94 bed-sits to achieve this result. There has been an obvious increase in the stability and safety of tenants since the conversions of the former rooming houses.

With the support of the State Government, in 2011 the organisation moved into an exciting new phase, taking on ownership of two properties in 2012 and 2014.

In 2011 South Port made a successful submission to the Federal Nation Building Program and received a grant of $11.5 million. On land leased for 80 years from the Melbourne Roman Catholic Diocese, South Port managed the construction of 40 new one-bedroom flats, owned by South Port, at 330 Bank Street, South Melbourne.

In 2014 South Port was approached by the G.W.Vowell Foundation wanting to sell their 31 bed-sit flats for the over 55 age group in Emerald Street, South Melbourne. After a long campaign, South Port obtained a State grant, borrowed funds for the first time, and purchased the Emerald Street property.

We have recently been successful in achieving financial support from the State’s Social Housing Growth Fund for a redevelopment of the site at 15 Emerald Street, South Melbourne to provide 45 (14 additional) long term rental housing units for people on very low incomes and aged over 55 years.   The project will be funded by South Port (providing the site and contributing $200,000), a grant from The White Foundation of $500,000 and a long term loan of $9.2m from the Social Housing Growth Fund. South Port will manage the project and construction of the new building.