A new partnership between Victoria’s leading housing organisation Unison and RMIT will combine academic research and street smarts to improve the lives of 650,000 Australians facing housing issues.
The industry-led approach aims to address the ongoing issue of housing and homelessness in a way that looks at both the causes of homelessness, including existing failings in the housing system, and preventative measures to help alleviate disadvantage.
Michael Perusco, Unison CEO, said homelessness in Victoria had increased by 20 per cent between 2006 and 2011 and the recent Census data was expected to reveal even higher numbers.
“Since 2011, the number of people seeking help from homelessness services has been increasing by an average of six per cent a year, which is much faster than population growth,” Perusco said.
"There is a need to look at this problem in a different way and find housing models that work now and into the future.”
Unison has been created through the merger of Yarra Community Housing and Urban Communities Limited and is one of the largest housing organisations in Victoria focused on delivering affordable housing for people who have experienced homelessness.
RMIT Vice-Chancellor and President, Martin Bean CBE, said the University was in the middle of a rapidly growing community of homeless people, and there was a strong sense across the campus that the University must be part of the solution.
“RMIT can’t solve the problem by itself – our business is education, training and research,” Martin said.
“But we can do it in partnership with agile social housing providers like Unison, with us chipping in research expertise to help better understand what is causing the challenges and to identify solutions – whether they are questions of finance, design, family stability or even education.”
Professor David Hayward, RMIT Senior Advisor, Public Policy and the Social Economy, said part of the challenge was stopping the cycle of people coming in and out of social housing and homelessness.
“The Unison/RMIT partnership is a unique industry-academic collaboration in that the research agenda will be led by the people at the coal-face of homelessness and housing assistance,” Hayward said.
The partnership between Unison and RMIT will see the creation of the Unison Urban Housing and Homelessness program – the first of its kind in Australia.
Industry leader Guy Johnson has been appointed as Australia’s first Professor of Urban Housing and Homelessness, with a dedicated research team.
“This program isn’t about researchers coming up with solutions by themselves. This is about working with people who have lived homelessness and the people who provide services every day to develop real housing solutions for a growing number of people in need,” Johnson said.
Hayward said ultimately, the partnership aims to develop solutions that not only halt the growth of housing insecurity and homelessness in Melbourne and Australia, but materially reduce the number of people sleeping rough and living without a place to call home in other parts of the world.
More than 650,000 people in Australia struggle with housing issues, including those experiencing homelessness and low income renters in housing stress.
Story: John Fergusson