The Inspiring Not-For-Profit Creating Affordable Housing For Women In Need

There’s no two ways about it, Australia is in desperate need of more affordable rentals for those locked out of the housing market.

Women’s Property Initiatives is a non-for-profit working to provide these kinds of properties for women and children in need, connecting them with long-term, and affordable housing, which costs no more than 30 per cent of their income — however much that might be.

Thanks to this community housing model, women facing homelessness have found a safe place to call home in some architectural and special properties that they wouldn’t be able to secure alone.

Christina Karras

Older Women’s Housing Project is one of the housing initiatives by Women’s Property Initiatives. Photo – Rory Gardiner

The pilot project features four units designed by Studio Bright that will assist low-income women above 55 find long-term housing. Photo – Rory Gardiner

Each unit has a connection to the outdoors and the shared productive garden. Photo – Rory Gardiner

Photo – Rory Gardiner

The floor plan is configured to allow adaptation as the needs of the inhabitants change. Photo – Rory Gardiner

A look at Skye House by Nightingale Housing, who sells its homes at cost and reserves 20 per cent of their projects for community housing providers, including Women’s Property Initiatives.

Skye House resident Tiffany Sassafrass lives in one of the nine homes WPI manages. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Inside the zero-fossil fuel building. Photo – Tom Ross

Tiffany had been couch surfing and without a permanent home for three years before securing her beautiful home. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Christina Karras
7th of September 2023

Women’s Property Initiatives (WPI) is a not-for-profit housing provider that’s been helping women and children find ‘affordable’ and stable homes since 1996. Fast-forward to today, and their work is more important than ever.

Housing affordability has fallen to its worst level in three decades, according to a new PropTrack report, but those who can’t afford to buy are also struggling to find a rental, with a vacancy rate of just 1.3 per cent of all rentals still empty. And the number of women becoming homeless is growing faster than men — something the WPI is working to address with their community housing.

‘Three in four people using homelessness services in March 2023 were women or children,’ WPI CEO Jeanette Large says. They own and manage 121 long-term homes, which they rent to women at risk of homelessness who’ve been awaiting for social housing through the Victorian Housing Register.

‘Our renters come from this list, but we are able to select women who are most in need and who are suited to the location, style of housing, and with connections to the community and the support services they need,’ Jeanette explains.

Not only does this secure women a place to live in the tumultuous market, but the rent is capped to remain ‘affordable’, at 30 per cent of their household income. It means they won’t be suddenly hit with rent increases or forced out of their property at the landlord’s request.

Tiffany Sassafrass and her six-year-old, Sunny, had been couch-surfing and struggling to find somewhere to live before WPI helped her into a brand-new home inside one of the coveted Nightingale apartment buildings in Brunswick.

‘I could not find permanent accommodation [in the Northern Rivers where I lived for 18 years] due to the housing crisis, so moved to Melbourne to be closer to my adult children,’ Tiffany says. ‘Unfortunately, I ended up in emergency housing due to the housing crisis down here also.’

Women’s homelessness organisation Juno referred Tiffany to WPI and set her up for an interview. But after three years without permanent housing, she ‘couldn’t believe it’ when they later told her she could move into Skye House designed by Breathe Architecture. ‘I am so grateful,’ Tiffany adds. ‘It’s warm, safe, eco-friendly, affordable and [home] to an amazing community of people.’

Beyond this important partnership with Nightingale, WPI also recently completed construction of four light-filled units in Melbourne’s outer east. Dubbed the Older Women’s Housing Project, the Beaconsfield development was designed to assist an overlooked demographic of low-income women over 55 who had some savings — making them ineligible for government social housing — but not enough to finance a mortgage or own their own home.

‘These women are currently locked into the private rental market watching their savings being depleted,’ Jeanette says. The project offers them an alternative: invest $150,000 into a loan agreement paid to WPI, and secure an open-ended lease that will allow them to age in place and pay income-based rent. WPI uses the investment to help deliver their projects, and similar to a shared-equity scheme, if a resident decided to leave they’d receive the full value of their investment back, with interest. WPI will also cover the cost of maintaining the properties, rates, and building insurance.

It’s a preventative plan to stop these women from aging into poverty, giving them a home for ‘as long as residents want it’. Architects Studio Bright created each home with an adaptable, L-shaped floorplan featuring a second bedroom/living room that can change to suit the occupant’s needs, while the shared driveway and a lush front garden filled with herbs, vegetables and fruit trees helps encourage a sense of community.

‘It’s not a solution for all women – many do not have the savings to invest – but innovative solutions are needed to stem the rising tide of older women’s homelessness,’ Jeanette explains.

With more than 49,000 Australian women who are homeless on any given night, WPI’s projects are giving people a fresh start — something our housing market also desperately needs.

Find out you can support Women’s Property Initiatives deliver more community housing.

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