Iain Shields is acutely aware of the challenges around social housing, having experienced them personally in the UK and then in a professional capacity in Australia.
Now as chief executive of not-for-profit organisation Hygge Community Life, Mr Shields is the driving force behind Home Hub, a new website that aims to connect 60,000 homeless people with 200,000 unoccupied properties in Western Australia.
Launched today, the affordable housing platform provides a central hub for the private real estate sector, community housing providers and owners and investors to advertise safe, secure and affordable properties.
“Our goal is to not be limited by the part of the housing ecosystem we want to work in,” Mr Shields told Business News.
“Our goal is to work across the whole housing ecosystem and say what homes can be used for safe, secure and affordable housing and then match people to them though the Home Hub.”
The United Nations recognises ‘affordable housing’ as that which absorbs no more than 30 per cent of a household’s income. Nation-wide, according to Anglicare WA, one in 10 households spends more than that 30 per cent figure on basic accommodation needs.
“There are a lot of people who fall into this bracket; it’s not just people you assume are poor,” Mr Shields said.
“Actually, they are people sitting in offices next to other people, they are people on the train, they are people you walk past on the street, they are people you talk to at the football at the weekend.
“There is a huge amount of people who are paying over 30 per cent of their income on rent and we just want to tackle that problem.”
Home Hub will be a space for community housing providers to advertise homes for people with a disability, those fleeing domestic violence, and people struggling with mental health.
“You can’t go anywhere and see what housing is available for mental health, let alone see them on a website, see what they look like, see if they might be suitable for you,” Mr Shields said.
“All we are doing is centralising all of that stuff and then we are making it far more visible for people to see.”
Hygge chair and services provider Rise Network chief executive, Justine Colyer, said when Rise had vacant properties, it could only advertise them on its own website and could not offer extensive choices.
“This [Home Hub] allows people to see a range of properties on offer, not just the ones that we’ve got vacant,” Ms Colyer told Business News.
“We just absolutely know the success of having someone move into a property where it suits them.
“The likelihood of them making that tenancy a success and their lives a success goes through the roof, rather than just being shoved in an empty space.”
It is also hoped the 14,000 people on the social housing waitlist, who according to Shelter WA have to wait two and a half years to find somewhere to live, will access the website to alleviate pressure on the government system.
The website will also help people looking for crisis accommodation.
“We get calls every day with people saying ‘We need a crisis bed for the night’ and all they can do is ring Entry Point to see what’s available,” Ms Mackenzie said.
“It’s a work in progress but the ultimate aim is to have real time.”
Home Hub has garnered support from the disability services, homelessness and corporate sectors, with Rise Network, Ruah Community Services, St Patrick's Community Support Centre, Beyond Bank Australia, and UnitingCare West contributing $5,000 each to establish the platform.
Ms Colyer said listing fees for landlords would help sustain the website once it was fully operational.
“If we were about making the not-for-profit sector more sustainable, this is actually us doing something about our own issue, in a way that is financially viable with a social return on investment,” she said.
UnitingCare West chief executive Amanda Hunt said her organisation would support Home Hub to help people at risk of homelessness find housing.
She said Home Hub filled a gap in the market that was clear to her and the UnitingCare West team when the idea was pitched.
“It was one of those head smacking moments where you just think, ‘Why on earth do we not have this?’” she said.
“Because you can just see how the connections that are made by the website and the hub are going to make a huge difference in people’s lives.”