Housing help gives single mothers the joy of stability
Rayana Khan, born in Afghanistan, with her two children Rana, 7, (left) and Pashdana, 6. Rayana lives in a Bayswater housing complex designed for single mothers. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer
RAYANA Khan was still a teenager when she arrived in Australia from Afghanistan following an arranged marriage.
Her daughters Rana and Pashdana were born soon after, just 12 months apart.
Spending long days at home alone in Dandenong, with little English, the young mother missed her family and friends back home. Most of all, she wanted her girls to experience a feeling of safety and security, the likes of which she has hardly known.
In 2010, she walked out on her marriage and the trio moved from one place to another in search of that dream. From Box Hill to Sunshine and finally Bayswater. After three different primary schools in one year, the girls are eager to start classes again after the school holidays.
The journey of Ms Khan and her children is just one story behind the facade of an award-winning apartment complex in Melbourne's south-eastern suburbs that is designed entirely for women on low incomes.
Finished a year ago, the project is home to 27 mostly young women and their 23 children, who plan to live there for the long term. Most of the families escaped domestic violence, living in shelters, cars or on the streets, while they languished on long waiting lists for public housing.
At Bayswater, they pay between 25 and 70 per cent market rent, making it affordable on Centrelink payments.
The project was the brainchild of non-profit housing provider Women's Housing Limited. Its $7.2 million construction costs were funded in part by the federal government's National Building Stimulus.
Women's Housing has also built a 49-unit project in Bentleigh under the same funding model. It was finished in August.
Chief executive officer Judy Line said they were unique projects because they were specifically for women in housing crisis.
Single mothers were the group most discriminated against in the private rental market and their economic position was more likely to decline with divorce and separation than men, she said.
''If women haven't got a stable address, it is difficult for them to make a better life for themselves and their kids,'' she said.
''An advantage of this project is that women in the same situations are living in the same building and can connect and support one another.
''Also the aesthetics are a feature because it's a nice, welcoming place to go into. It's a place you can be proud to live in.''
She called on the federal and state governments to continue to fund such projects, which have no continuing costs for governments after construction.
The project recently won an award for excellence from the peak property development industry group, the Urban Development Institute of Australia.
Institute executive director Tony De Domenico said the building's six-star energy rating and low heating and cooling requirements ensured that tenants avoided high bills. ''The building incorporates environmentally sustainable design principles and robust, low-maintenance finishes,'' he said.
A train station, bus stop, primary school and supermarket are within walking distance.
A local church has also offered the women groceries through its food bank and free music classes for the children.
After months of homelessness, Ms Khan said she cried when she learnt her girls would have a permanent, affordable place to live in Bayswater.
Unable to pay for rent in the private market, she had been worried sick about the future. Now she plans to stay put for the long term.
''I wanted my life to be different and now I feel safe, very safe,'' she said. ''There are good people here. Everything is close, the station, school, shops. I am very happy.''