Social housing is going places


Uniting Housing Victoria will soon be in need of a very big truck.

Five modular townhouses are currently being built in a factory in Melbourne’s west to be carried by road to Mt Pleasant in Ballarat where they will be installed on a church site as social housing for vulnerable youth.

The innovative approach is the idea of Uniting Housing Victoria CEO Ian Brain, and the scheme allows church properties to host social housing without having to construct buildings on site.

“The houses go in on a truck and they can go out on a truck,” Mr Brain said.

“We don’t have to acquire title for a permanent building and take that away from a commonwealth of the church. In that way we protect the wealth of the church.

“If McDonald’s comes along and wants to buy the land we can remove the townhouses. We keep both the value of the land and the value of the building intact.”

Two transportable townhouses have already been successfully placed in Ararat.

Mr Brain said the steel-framed units look and feel like permanent housing, which is what first sold him on the idea.

“I didn’t want them to look like a caravan park,” he said.

“When I saw the equivalent of a contemporary townhouse as a modular unit, then the penny dropped.

“Our client tenants are very, very positive. The design fits in with the neighbourhood landscape and, from what the local community has said, they don’t see a distinction between the nature of that building and a contemporary townhouse.”

While the modular units were not ‘ultra-cheap’, Mr Brain said building them in a factory provides a price advantage.

As well as less labour time, it also reduces environmental concerns as there is very little wastage on the housing site.

The units can be customised to suit tenants with physical disabilities and will have solar power.

Another advantage is that council permissions should be easy to obtain because Uniting Housing can point to examples where very similar modular units have been installed.

“The plans have been through that process for another site so it’s a matter of a minor adaptation,” Mr Brain said.

The townhouses being built at the Modular Spaces Factory in Melton will be completed in the next few weeks.

The Mt Pleasant site is also being prepared as amenities are put in place to connect once the townhouses are placed on their stumps.

Weather permitting, the plan is to transport the houses in one day and then set them up in a couple of weeks.

Mr Brain said the quality of the houses was vital to making sure they would cope with being transported, installed and possibly later removed.

“If they need the option to relocate we can do that with confidence,” he said.

The Mt Pleasant townhouses will be occupied by vulnerable young people who need somewhere safe and secure to temporarily stay because of situations such as domestic violence.

“The intention is to give them six months to settle their lives, return home if that is appropriate or set themselves up independently,” Mr Brain said.

Uniting Housing has developed a model with synod Property Trust where churches, as the beneficial users of the land title, receive 5 percent of the rental income the townhouses generate.

This money can be used for other missional purposes or general expenditures.

Leaving land title with synod also removes the risk of the property being handed over to some other social housing provider if Uniting Housing Victoria fails financially.

“Modular housing is ideal for many of the opportunities that might be emerging from congregations with smaller parcels of land, old tennis courts or spaces out the back of the church,” Mr Brain said.

“There is no reason the module can’t be created for other purposes as well, these could be turned into a kindergarten, so it’s a good model for congregations to see what they may want to do in their area.

“We’re simply endeavouring to put up a workable mechanism where congregations can fulfil mission by housing provision.”

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