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Housing and homelessness in the top three priorities for Australians leading up to election time

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Full article here.

Homelessness and housing support agency Launch Housing looked into what Australians are saying about homelessness and housing. Acting CEO Dr Heather Holst says the research shows “people are concerned about homelessness, they are concerned about housing affordability and they are concerned that not enough is being done.”

As an enterprise of Launch Housing, HomeGround Real Estate gives property owners the chance to give back and contribute to the housing crisis in Melbourne. Click here for more information.




HomeGround Real Estate on ABC Radio National

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Heather and Belinda sat down with ABC Radio National’s Michael Mackenzie to discuss where HomeGround Real Estate is at just over two years after launching. They break down our different tiers of management, bust some negative gearing myths, explain our relationship with and share an update on the national rollout!


Australia’s great divide: renters and the rest

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With our second birthday fast approaching we’re looking back at what’s been achieved over the past two years together with our landlords, tenants and everyone else in the community who’s supported the initiative. Take a look at Suzy Freeman-Greene’s article published the same week HomeGround Real Estate launched – all of the issues touched on in her comment are still prevalent, most importantly the significant lack of quality, affordable housing available in Melbourne’s inner suburbs for low-income earners or those simply struggling to compete in such a challenging rental market.

Launch Housing Deputy CEO Dr. Heather Holst on 774 ABC Melbourne

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Last week Launch Housing Deputy CEO Dr. Heather Holst was invited to speak with Sally Warhurst on 774 ABC Melbourne. They discussed the current situation for those experiencing homelessness and what HomeGround Real Estate are doing to help. Heather also speaks of the challenges the hot weather at this time of year presents for those sleeping rough.

To listen to the full interview, click here.

New scheme encourages Melbourne to take in the homeless

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HomeGround Real Estate attracted some media attention during Homelessness Prevention Week thanks to a mention by the Lord Mayor on 3AW. It sparked 9news to run a story on the innovative initiative that gives landlords an opportunity to contribute something back in to the community.

We also teamed up with STREAT, CHP, infoxchange, The Big Issue and City of Melbourne at pop-up cafe HoMe to engage the community and promote conversations about homelessness. For more on this, check out our Facebook page.



New Directions in Private Rental: One House and One Unit at a Time

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Clare Davies, Property Manager, HomeGround Real Estate

‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.’ (1)

Our community needs more safe, affordable and long-term housing options for people who are experiencing homelessness – this is just a fact. There are people all over the country working very hard to achieve this goal. And, particularly in the current climate, there is much work to do. Contributing to an increase in affordable and sustainable housing options requires new and creative thinking. Arguably it is strengthened by the community maintaining a diverse range of programs and models that are flexible enough to work collaboratively when required but that separately maintain a strong, process-driven base that provides security and stability for tenants, workers and property owners.

HomeGround Real Estate (HGREA) was boldly set up in early 2014 in an attempt to contribute to addressing the need for increased housing options in line with HomeGround Service’s goal of ending homelessness in Melbourne.

HGREA is Australia’s ‘one of a kind not for profit real estate agency’ (2) that aims to reinvest property management fees into housing people on low incomes, at risk of homelessness or homeless across Melbourne.

HGREA manages properties that fall into three categories: Tier One, Two and Three. The subsidised housing falls under the Tier Three category.

The following article will focus on this accommodation with some comments from tenants who have lived or continue to live in Tier Three properties.


What is Tier Three?

  • Tier Three properties are offered exclusively to prospective tenants exiting homelessness.
  • Tenants are linked in with a support worker who continues to work with the tenant until they are settled into the property or on an ongoing basis if needed (although this does not always transpire due to agency engagement limits).
  • Transitional Tier Tree tenants work with a designated support worker for the duration of their tenancy and focus on their long-term housing exit, usually public housing.
  • Prospective tenants generally have low to medium support needs and must be able to live independently.
  • Some tenancies are long-term (provided tenants continue to comply with eligibility criteria (3)) and some are managed as transitional accommodation.
  • Accommodation is new and/or maintained to a high standard.
  • Accommodation is generally very secure, lift access, sometimes onsite concierge.
  • Each property is assigned a property manager (similar to the role of a tenancy worker) who works on behalf of the landlord, but also informs the tenants and support worker of expectations, rights and responsibilities of the tenants and follows the Residential Tenancies Act in all dealings with the tenant.
  • Rent is generally calculated in a similar way to Office of Housing methods and paid via Centrepay.
  • Tier Three properties so far are privately owned, and mostly by HomeGround Services.

HGREA currently manage 40 Tier Three properties. The make-up of these properties and tenancies vary. Twelve properties are managed as transitional accommodation and were previously managed very effectively by HomeGround Tenancy and Property until February 2014 when the HGREA was established. The 18 longer-term properties at the Nicholson were managed by Urban Communities Limited (UCL) until November 2014.

Eighteen Tier Three properties are located within a purpose-built complex in Coburg set amongst private owner/occupiers and other more affordable housing. (Investors and owner/occupiers were aware of the mix of accommodation in the complex from the outset.)

Other Tier Three properties include ex-hotel inner city studios and a series of suburban flats in the inner and eastern suburbs. HGREA also manager a whole complex of units as transitional accommodation on behalf of a church organisation.

These 12 transitional tenancies follow the transitional model whereby a tenant is linked in with a support worker for the duration of their tenancy and they work together in pursuit of securing long-term housing, usually public housing but occasionally private rental.

Positive Outcomes

There have been many positive outcomes for tenants who live in Tier Three properties. Providing safe, secure, affordable, long-term housing could be attributed to acting as a catalyst, a vehicle or leverage for tenants to focus on other things in their life aside from sourcing housing. The addition of targeted support, where applicable, assists tenants greatly in their pursuit of getting life back on track.

Some words from a long-term Tier Three tenant who has moved on the private rental:

‘After nearly eight years with HomeGround I am now confident in what I do with my life and look forward to being independent of Welfare reliance and support providers. I (have been) able to continue my recovery from bad health and focus on a return to employment and education both of which I have achieved.’

Another tenant, when asked how stable housing has contributed to their current situation responded as follows:

‘I have moved beyond merely surviving to thriving. Having one thing in life as a certainty, ‘a sure thing,’ has had a profoundly grounding effect on my life. I’ve been able to achieve long held goals around physical and mental health, succeed with study, eliminate debt and save money. I am living the bright future people kept telling me I was destined for when I was really struggling and in a lot of existential pain.’

Some contributing factors to the success of these tenancies have been identified by a small survey of tenants as including the following:

  • security of the building
  • location and amenity of building
  • tenure or length of tenancy
  • intensive targeted support, particularly at outset of tenancy
  • affordability of accommodation.

‘That it was a secure building and provided a sense of physical safety was hugely important for me when I moved in. Three years on I still see this as one of the biggest advantages of having stable housing.’

Another tenant responded:

‘Because I suffer from general anxiety disorder, which is often negatively environmentally affected, my anxiety has thankfully decreased since being in stable housing.’


‘Stable housing has contributed to my current situation in a positive manner by getting me out of the chaotic and often violent, volatile environment of unstable accommodation that I had been previously living in.’

The Tier Three program is closely aligned with the Housing First model that was borne our of a sharp increase in the number of homeless families with children in Los Angeles, California in 1988. (4) Originally Housing First was focussed on a response for the chronically homeless and was premised on the notion that housing a basic right and should not be denied to anyone. (5)

According to the Thomson Goodall report:

Housing First ‘ and supportive housing are approaches to ending homelessness that focus on providing homeless people with direct access to permanent housing plus support services.’

The ‘Housing First’ model has the following critical elements:

  1. There is a focus on helping individuals and families access and sustain permanent rental housing as quickly as possible and the housing is not time-limited.
  2. A variety of support services are delivered primarily following a housing placement to promote housing stability and individual well-being.
  3. Such support services are time-limited or long-term depending upon individual need; and
  4. Housing in not contingent on compliance with services – instead, participants must comply with a standard lease agreement and are provided with the services and supports that are necessary to help them do so successfully.’ (6)

Despite many examples of tenants flourishing once they secure Tier Three housing, there have also been evictions and difficult tenancies, although very few. In line with research around the Housing First model, I would argue that the fact that as the accommodation is deemed long-term and is thereby more secure and offered in conjunction with the provision of sufficient and individually allocated support, Tier Three tenancies have resulted in less evictions and more overwhelmingly positive outcomes for tenants and (therefore property owners).

Challenges Going Forward

Significant areas for improvement include:

  • Cleaning up the great areas around tenure, can we refer to the tenure as long term when this is tied to tenants’ ongoing eligibility? How can we offer give year leases or longer leases?
  • Support agencies closing prematurely with a tenant – more recently if there has been a perceived need that a tenant might benefit from some support (for example the tenant is building up arrears and there is pending VCAT action), the property manager has the option of asking the tenant if they think they might benefit from being linked with a support worker.
  • Further work needs to be done around how to fund and facilitate support for unsupported tenants if the need arises. HGREA has recently applied for funding for this.
  • Acquiring more appropriate subsidised housing – continued work around pursuing further developments/housing opportunities in order to increase affordable and sustainable housing options.

How does this model assist with prospective tenants who might have a tendency to fall through the cracks, chronic rough sleepers or high needs clients? Or are we satisfied that they are accommodated by other programs/models?

It is quite obvious to me from worker perspective that secure, safe, affordable, long-term housing can change lives and along with other effective models should be a right to all based on individual need.

The question is how will our society create more of these opportunities people? How does our community renew commitment to these challenges particularly in the current climate?

The answer might be one house and one unit at a time.

Stable housing has contributed to my current situation in a positive manner by getting me out of the chaotic and often violent, volatile environment of homelessness including homeless rooming house – unstable accommodation that I had been previously living in. My housing has had an immensely positive impact of all aspects of my life.’

Many thanks to the tenants and ex-tenants for their words and thoughts on this subject.



(1). Marianne Williamson quote provided by HomeGround tenant.

(2). Heather Holst, Australian not for profit real estate CEO in Chicago for homeless conference., 1st June, 2015.

(3). Twenty eight of the Tier Three properties, tenants are offered to renew the lease if they choose at the end of each year, provided they have abided by their Tenancy Agreement and continue to meet eligibility requirements.

(4). Profile for Tanya Tull, Ashoka Fellowship, 2009.  Retrieved February 11, 2014.

(5). Housing First, From Wikipedia, 2015.

(6). HomeGround Transitional Housing Summary Report Independent report by Thomson Goodall Associates, 2009. p 18-19.


Featured in Parity June 2015 Volume 28 – Issue 5 Dear Landlord: Private Rental and Homelessness(page 43)


New Directions in Private Rental: HomeGround Real Estate Agency, Australia’s First Not for Profit Real Estate Agency

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Andrea Levey, Manager HomeGround Real Estate Agency


On March 25th 2014, HomeGround Services launched Australia’s first not-for-profit real estate agency, HomeGround Real Estate (HGREA). The agency provides professional property management services for residential property owners in Melbourne and is the brainchild of Dr Heather Holst (CEO HomeGround Services). It is an innovative way to respond to the growing issue of housing affordability without the need to rely on government funding.

The main incentive to establish the agency came about as a direct result of a decrease in affordable housing in both the public and private rental sectors. HomeGround Services, as one of the main homelessness access points in the south and north of Melbourne were seeing more and more people who were unable to wait ten years on the public housing waiting list and who could not afford increasing rental prices in Melbourne. The housing and homelessness sector had already started to look to the private rental market to secure additional housing supply, to complement the range of housing responses required to end homelessness in Melbourne. HGREA is an exciting means to improve housing supply, to give people a practical way to help in the fight against homelessness while improving access to the private rental market for many people who may otherwise be homeless and priced out of this option.

Founding a not-for-profit real estate agency was a natural progression as HomeGround already had the necessary experience required having managed Office of Housing properties and head leased properties for the past 15 years. The establishment process included developing a business case and working out the logistics of becoming a registered real estate agency.

We were incredibly fortunate to have Phillipe Batters offer his services as the HGREA Principal on a pro bono basis. We were also able to secure seed funding from many philanthropic sources and local government grants. As this had never been done before we were in the position to attract a lot of interest from the media and the public.

HomeGround Real Estate operates on a model that essentially includes three tiers; commercial, affordable housing and philanthropic (tier one, two and three respectively).

The commercial tier provides property and tenancy management services just like any mainstream agency. The affordable housing initiative invites property owners to forego a percentage of their rental income (usually 25 percent) which enable us to offer a property at below market rent to low income tenants.

Finally, property owners are invited to forego all rental income and let us manage their property. We then use these tier three properties to house people on very limited incomes (usually income support recipients) who may have previously been homeless.

HomeGround Real Estate meets all regulatory and legal requirements and has a team of experienced, highly trained and dedicated staff ready to manage properties in both the commercial and affordable housing categories. At this stage we are only doing tenancy and property management with no sales and as such we are able to focus all our energies on getting the best management outcomes for the tenant and owner.

HomeGround Real Estate provides housing stability and security for people who might otherwise miss out in the private rental market. We advertise our full market rent properties (tier 1) on and our website as well as on Facebook and if appropriate some student housing websites. We advertise the affordable housing properties (tier 2) in the same way but these properties are advertised as affordable housing and income limits apply. The social housing tenants (tier 3) are sourced through our Initial Assessment and Planning team and out Accommodation Options for Families team. We do not advertise these properties.

One question we are often asked by owners who approach us to manage their investment property is whether we will source a tenant for their property from our homelessness service. The short answer is no.

These properties are not within the price range of the clients who access HomeGround Services and as such they would not be appropriate.

We source tenants for these properties in the same way as any other agency and we check work references and previous tenancy references before making an offer.

In some ways we are able to be more flexible in that if we receive two applications for the same property and they are basically equal in terms of references and one was a single mother and the other was  full time worker and they were both able to afford the property, we might strongly recommend the single mother to the owner whereas other agents may not.

We also recognise that one of the most negative aspects for tenants in private rental is the lack of any security of tenure. With most agents only offering a 12 month lease it is incredibly difficult to feel like you can make a place your home. We ask our owners if they would be willing to negotiate a longer lease for the tenants, thereby saving themselves some money by not having to pay re-letting fees or advertising fees every 12 months, while offering the tenants  a longer more secure tenancy. We have found that most of our landlords are very open to this idea.

The initiative has also provided assistance to women and children fleeing family violence and individuals and families on low incomes who have been priced out of the private rental market.

The first 12 months has confirmed the need for a not for profit real estate agency that brings a new perspective to the property market. HomeGround Real Estate gives property owners an opportunity to give back to the community while receiving an industry standard service. We have been overwhelmed with the response and particularly with the number of people who choose to offer the property to us at a reduced rental, thereby making the property affordable.

We have a block of flats that is probably the best ‘working’ example of the model at work. The flats incorporate all three tiers. The owner was the first to come on board and offer us a property to manage. As a result of this relationship working we have since been given the whole block of four flats to manage. This block of flats houses an asylum seeker and his son who pay 25 per cent of their income in rent, a low-income father and school age son in another flat paying 75 per cent of the market rent. Another flat is rented out at full market rent and the last in the block is rented out as an affordable property with the owner forgoing 25 percent of the rental income.

One of the greatest things about HomeGround Real Estate Agency from my perspective is the flexibility and range of management opportunities that we can offer to people who approach us. We have been able to partner with a disability organisation who approached us not long after launching. Many of their clients were willing and able to move out of home but due to a lack of options were still living with their parents. We had an owner approach us with two fully disabled access units in Montmorency, she wanted to rent them out in the private market but faced barriers from traditional real estate agents. HomeGround Real Estate Agency took over the management of the properties, leased them to disability agency who then were able to sub-let them to their clients.

Another example of our ability to find tenants from a variety of sources other than the traditional means, is demonstrated by one of the first properties we were offered. This property had been vacant and on the market for approximately six weeks. There were two other agents advertising the property at the time that HGREA came on board.

I had previously spoken with a young person’s private rental brokerage worker wanting to access properties for her programs participants in the southern suburbs. This property met their requirements in terms of size, price and location. Through networks that traditional real estate agents would not have access to we were able to tenant the property with three young women one week after being approached.

The feedback from our tenants and landlords so far is that we are providing a great service. We have achieved significant growth since launching in March 2014 and we intent to continue to grow and make this initiative part of the solution to the serious affordable housing shortage facing us in Victoria and nationally.

Probably the question I have most been asked since we started HomeGround Real Estate Agency is why no one has ever done this before. It seems like such a no-brainer. It is wonderful to be part of a solution to the serious and ever growing issue of housing affordability. At the end of the day we are making a difference and we are getting homes for people that need them – and that is what it is all about.


Featured in Parity June 2015 Volume 28 – Issue 5 Dear Landlord: Private Rental and Homelessness(page 37)


Australian not for profit real estate CEO in Chicago for homeless conference

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1 June 2015

A leading Australian homelessness agency, HomeGround Services, is pioneering a move into the real estate business as a way to help end homelessness in one of the nation’s largest capital cities.

The organisation’s CEO Dr Heather Holst is in Chicago to take part in the ‘Homelessness in a Global Landscape’ conference at De Paul University from 1-2 June 2015.

Dr Holst says HomeGround Real Estate is a “one of a kind not for profit real estate agency” that reinvests property management fees into housing people on low incomes in Melbourne, capital city of the state of Victoria.

Since launching in March 2014 the agency has over 200 properties on its books and is providing housing solutions for people at risk of homelessness through an affordable housing initiative.

“We manage properties for landlords at market rent but also give them the opportunity to list their property at an affordable rental so that we can house women and children leaving family violence and people who have been forced out of the private rental market,” Dr Holst says.

Australia has over 100,000 people recorded as homeless, despite being a wealthy nation. “On any given night in Australia one in 200 people are homeless. In our state of Victoria the figures are almost 23,000. It is totally unacceptable that a country as wealthy as Australia can’t find solutions to house everyone,” Dr Holst said.

Dr Holst says Australian agencies are looking to the success stories in the United States where homelessness is decreasing. “We are watching with interest the gradual decline in homelessness in many states across the US. I know there is a long way to go in ending homelessness here but you have strong federal leadership and buy in from the states which is something we would like to see happen in Australia.”

Social enterprises like HomeGround Real Estate will play a crucial role in efforts to end homelessness in Australia according to Dr Holst.

“We are dealing with declining federal and state investment in public and social housing at a time when rental prices are soaring in our capital cities in Australia,” she said. “So it is really important to look at how we can encourage property owners to help solve this problem and get involved in affordable housing initiatives offered by agencies like HomeGround.”

Dr Holst is available for media interview and can be contacted by email while in Chicago at and she can provide a telephone number or attend a studio interview.

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