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Women’s Property Initiatives (WPI) provides secure and permanent homes for single women and their children because they are least likely to be able to afford them. Lower incomes, fewer opportunities and caring responsibilities placing greater limits on their ability to work means that women face inherent economic disadvantage in their access to secure and appropriate housing. With current market conditions, it’s virtually impossible for single women and mothers on low incomes to afford private rental properties.

WPI recently released an independent evaluation of the social return on investment (SROI) of the secure, affordable homes we provide for vulnerable women and children. This evaluation quantifies and monetises our social impact in a clear and consistent way. It hinges on what has changed and the degree of change experienced by our tenants and other stakeholders.

We measure our SROI because so much of our tenants’ experiences are not captured by market prices or valued.

It’s important to show the social and economic value created, not just simply report on satisfaction, tenancy rates, expenses, and revenue. Demonstrating the broader social value is critical to us confidently advocating for more community housing for women and convincing our supporters that their investment creates substantial and sustainable change. It is as much their social impact as ours. Organisations and individuals that are considering funding secure, affordable, and long-term homes for women should have this information to inform their strategic decision-making.

Many of our tenants have experienced family violence or are migrants fleeing conflict in their country of origin. Some are older women who have worked their whole lives but can’t afford market rents. Others find themselves living in a car or on a friend’s couch. Our very stretched crisis services and short-term housing services are critical in sheltering vulnerable women, but often there is no next step towards a stable future. WPI offers this next step.

Put simply, a long-term, affordable and secure home creates a new beginning for a woman who is facing homelessness. Research clearly shows the costs of providing stable, affordable housing (to the individual, to the community and to government) are much lower than when we allow people to become homeless. Most of it is based on the terrible effects that unstable housing has on physical and mental health. However, it leaves a range of positive outcomes from secure housing that is never measured or valued. In the case of women this includes crucial factors like increased social participation, better family relationships and improved education – all significant in breaking the cycle of disadvantage.

The independent evaluation of WPI showed that for every dollar invested in our housing, over $11 of social value is created. The outcomes were valued at $15.5 million for 2014/15 financial year, with input costs of $1.4 million. Importantly, the evaluation found there was over $2 million worth of social value experienced by the state and federal governments in the 12-month period due to avoided health, homelessness, corrections, and welfare costs.

WPI provides homes for over 200 women and children around Melbourne. These results provide support for our belief that safe, affordable, long-term homes have changed their futures. Tenants obtained most of the social value due to improvements in emotional wellbeing, personal safety, physical health, employment, social inclusion, independence, and positive lifestyle choices. Their children also experienced improvements in personal and social well-being, educational outcomes, and family relationships.

I recently spoke to one of our tenants, Marie, who has experienced horrific family violence. After an adjustment period, her home life is now stable enough for her to study to become a classroom integration aid. Her son, Josh, has a disability and by studying and helping him at school, she has developed a deeper understanding of what he goes through and their bond is stronger than ever. She is using these skills to enrich the school experience for lots of other children. Where would this social impact be captured in traditional methods of measuring outcomes?

To understand the shape, quantity, and value of our social impact we need to give our tenants a voice to share their lived experiences of secure housing. This understanding is crucial in engaging supporters and advocating for more housing.

 

Jeanette Large is CEO of  Women’s Property Initiatives, a not-for-profit provider of affordable, long-term homes for women and of Property Initiatives Real Estate, a social enterprise established to create a revenue stream for WPI.