HomeGround chief executive Heather Holst. Photo: Penny Stephens
A Melbourne housing service for the homeless has called on the public to support an unusual concept: a not-for-profit real estate agency.
Landlords will be able to choose to have their property managed by HomeGround Services, with the agent's commission funding housing for the disadvantaged.
HomeGround chief executive Heather Holst said the agency, HomeGround Real Estate, had received its state government licence and will be open by February.
It will have a shopfront in the organisation's headquarters in Oxford Street, Collingwood, and two staff backed by HomeGround property managers.
Dr Holst said the agency would primarily act as a social enterprise managing landlords' property. Anyone who owned a rental property could enlist the agency to manage it.
It will also be keen to hear from philanthropic landlords willing to discount rent for disadvantaged people, or to offer properties rent-free for a period.
The family of ethicist Peter Singer had donated to HomeGround the use of two of its Richmond houses for the past five years.
Dr Holst said there was a desire in the community to do good. ''I think a lot of people are quite disturbed by the level of homelessness and the amount of housing pressure,'' she said. ''So this will be a way for people to do something practical about that.''
By the end of its first year, the business aims to manage 100 houses and units at market rental, 50 properties of reduced-rent housing and 16 properties of rent-foregone housing. Rent-forgone housing tenants would pay rent of 25 per cent of Centrelink income, to cover maintenance.
HomeGround, mostly funded by the state government, expects to invest $150,000 into the project. The Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation has donated $50,000 and the City of Yarra $9000.
Dr Holst said it was a radical idea but also ''obvious'' with the supply of public housing dwindling and more clients being placed in motels and rooming houses.
She said the project was made possible after veteran South Yarra real estate agent Philippe Batters agreed to advise on it pro bono and act as the agency's ''principal'', overseeing legal compliance while another qualified real estate agent will run the day-to-day practice.
Mr Batters said he had never heard of a not-for-profit real estate agency in 40 years in the industry. ''It really is a different thing to what the usual activity of a real estate firm is,'' he said.
It was ''a terrific idea … helping people who otherwise wouldn't be able to get [a] rental property close-in [to the city].''