Partnership profile: Housing Choices Australia & Unison Housing

22 February 2022
Man carrying moving boxes

A key feature in Sacred Heart Mission’s Journey to Social Inclusion (J2SI) program is the housing first approach – getting people who have experienced long-term homelessness and disadvantage into stable housing as soon as possible. This housing, alongside three years of intensive support is what makes the J2SI program so unique and effective.

With support of Sacred Heart Mission’s housing partners, Housing Choices Australia (HCA) and Unison Housing, we secure properties through the private rental market, through a concept known as ‘head leasing’.

Housing Choices Australia logo Unison Housing logo


Finding suitable properties

This involves working with private real estate agencies and landlords to find suitable properties for clients. The community housing provider signs the lease; and then sub-leases properties to J2SI participants at a subsidised rate that is affordable for people on lower incomes. The difference in cost is subsidised by Sacred Heart Mission as part of the J2SI program, which is funded under a Social Impact Investment model.

The head leasing approach is beneficial in the absence of sufficient social housing – J2SI participants can break the cycle of homelessness, engage with the support program, and build skills to sustain a tenancy so they feel ready and confident prior to receiving a long-term housing offer through the Victorian Housing Register. This also gives landlords the benefit of rental income at a market rate for longer periods, while giving back to the community.

Educating housing providers about client needs

Both HCA and Unison educate real estate agents and landlords on the client base to build their awareness of the challenges of maintaining a tenancy for people who have experienced long-term homelessness and why extra support is essential.

J2SI Manager Garry Bourke says the partnership with HCA and Unison is core to the success of the J2SI program.

“Sacred Heart Mission would not be able to achieve the aims of J2SI without their support. Together we are ensuring clients continue their recovery with all the support they need.”

“It’s a very special journey to be on with somebody”

Dione Stephens, Housing Services Manager at HCA was involved in setting up HCA’s first partnership agreement with J2SI in 2016.

Eilish Slane joined HCA three years ago as a Housing Officer, working on the ground with clients to sign them up for properties and tenancy management, and is now the Team Leader of Intensive Tenancy and Property Management Services. She attends partnership meetings with Sacred Heart Mission, ensuring that the program is working as effectively as possible.

It is the successes for clients that keep Eilish and Dione going:

Building rapport with tenants and watching them grow, finding employment, being reunited with children and being proud of their homes are what make it all worth it.

“It is so lovely to see client success stories in this role,” says Eilish. “I remember signing up a particular client who had been homeless for a long time and had significant challenges with alcohol and drugs – but because of J2SI they were able to obtain employment and really deal with their substance use issues, and they got offered long-term housing. It is so lovely when that happens.”

Giving properties to people who really need them

There has also been success in the wider community – HCA and Unison now have strong relationships with landlords and agents who are sympathetic to clients and want to help.

“Sometimes we have agents or landlords approach us and say they’d like the property to go to someone who really needs it. It is really positive when that happens and demonstrates that the community does care about preventing and ending homelessness,” says Dione.

However, long-term HCA want to see governments invest more in social housing, especially in lower-density properties.

A unique partnership that works

Charlotte Timmermans, a Team Leader at Unison Housing, says the partnership with Sacred Heart Mission is unique.

“As a housing provider we are not trained in the same way as Sacred Heart Mission. We rely on the support workers. Whilst our work is focussed on educating clients on housing and maintaining a property, clients need a safe person to talk with and to advocate for them if they are struggling. They are two very different streams of knowledge, and together it really works. As a partnership it’s really beneficial.”

Charlotte says the key to successfully housing a new client, and keeping them housed, is about “having an open mind and willingness to take on everyone’s story.”

“It’s lovely seeing the change in clients from the beginning of being housed to settling in and then when they exit to their forever home. It’s a very special journey to be on with somebody.”