Melbourne family donates $4 million to build housing for homeless people

A rendering of the portable units to be built as part of the housing project

One of Melbourne’s most generous families is donating AUD $4 million (US$3 million) for the construction of 57 housing units that will offer some of the city’s homeless a chance to have a roof over their heads.

The project is being funded by the Harris family, which has a rich history of giving back to the community. Brad Harris and his father Geoff are no strangers to making a difference with their generosity.

Back in 2014, the Harris family made headlines after buying a $2.5 million mansion in Collingwood and then converting it to a centre for the youth homelessness organisation Streat.

That luxury property was leased to Streat for the nominal sum of just $5 a year for 50 years.

“Having a roof overhead and food in your stomach is fundamental. It’s unacceptable that in a wealthy society like ours we’ve allowed this problem to grow worse,” Mr Harris told local journalists when announcing the housing plan. In the view of Mr Harris, homelessness is the biggest issue affecting Melbourne.

The plan involves building 57 units for the homeless in an area west of the city that is currently undeveloped. Currently, the plan is still pending approval from the local council, but once permission is granted it is expected that residents will begin to move in from around June this year.

The actual units involved in the plan are quite special: they will be produced at a factory and then transported to the site in Melbourne’s west. Moving the pre-assembled units will be something of a challenge, with over-sized vehicles required to carry them through a major road. However, it’s all for a good cause, and those involved in the project and confident the hurdles will be cleared.

Schored, a local architect, is credited with the design of the units, which can be produced for the low price of just $80,000 each. It takes approximately one day to construct each unit, and the assembly costs are quite low. Another advantage is that they can be moved later if required with relatively little difficulty.

“Utilising vacant government land at no cost, I see this project as essentially the trial for a new economic model to provide fast, large-scale affordable housing,” said Mr Harris.

A Melbourne-based expert on homelessness spoke highly of the plan, commending the Harris family and the other parties involved on thinking outside the box and coming up with a unique scheme to address a crucial social issue.

“It’s estimated this project can help over one hundred of Melbourne’s most vulnerable homeless have a place to call their own. It is well known that finding a home is the first step in breaking the crippling cycle of poverty. I think it will give a lot of struggling people something that haven’t had for a long time: hope.”

A government minister also praised the project, saying: “Homelessness is a confronting and complex issue. We are currently experiencing unprecedented demand and a first-of-its-kind project like this will help adults and families have a place to call home.”