Snapshot: Sustain Community Housing
Sustain Community Housing is pioneering a new social housing model which could change the lives of many, thanks to a joint loan from Social Enterprise Finance Australia ( SEFA) and Social Ventures Australia (SVA).
Who are they
Building a group home for a disability service provider in 2012 opened Josh Vrsaljko’s eyes to the problem of insufficient social housing in New South Wales. After 20 years working in development and construction, this experience inspired him to direct his energy and resources towards providing homes for children, the elderly and people with disabilities.
Josh is the Founder and Executive Director of Sustain Community Housing which broke ground on its first project in Colyton, Western Sydney February 2015. It is a development of six dwellings, two of which will be used for social housing.
SVA and SEFA provided the senior debt in the $2m project – marking the first time that two SEDIF lenders have worked together to maximise social outcomes.
What they do
‘Sustain was launched to make a huge change in the disability sector by providing new accommodation assets’, says Josh, who plans to rapidly scale the model.
‘The government is doing a great job with NDIS – providing more funding for services– but there’s still a ten year wait in social housing. Around 105,000 people live on the street every night, and 28,000 of them are under the age of 18’, he adds.
Social housing is available to people on low incomes and tenants pay 20 per cent of their pension, or government payment, in rent.
For its first project, Sustain used the loans to purchase 2,400 square metres of land, which it subdivided into three blocks. Each will have a duplex of two dwellings, four of which have been sold off the plan to private buyers. Sustain will keep two, which will be managed as social housing. Profits from the sales will feed back into future projects with the same structure.
Sustain will build to the Liveable Housing Australia standard, which is suitable for people with disabilities and anyone on the social housing waiting list.
This not-for-profit development company, gained deductible gift recipient status in late 2014, allowing it to receive tax deductible donations for future projects. But it also exempted Sustain from costly taxes and duties involved in construction, which has enabled their loan to go further.
How innovative financing can add value
Sustain has a grand vision and would like to see a couple of thousand houses built in NSW in under five years. ‘That’s where you start to see impact’, Josh says.
‘I didn’t set this up for just two social houses; if you produce 1000 houses, that’s a huge impact on the ten year wait. We’re only one organisation, but if there were five organisations like ours, if there was more funding available like the money we got, there might be more people setting up things like this, and that becomes a huge impact.’
Senior Relationship Manager, Phung Spyrou, pioneered the loan for SEFA. ‘Josh’s enthusiasm and passion for this project is infectious, and we are so pleased to contribute towards this innovative solution to the social housing challenge. This transaction was also a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with SVA on what we hope to be the first of many impactful projects’, Phung says.
Mark Peacock, Director of Impact Investing with SVA, says ‘This is an exciting opportunity to partner with another for purpose organisation, to back an innovative social entrepreneur dealing with one of the country’s biggest social challenges – the lack of social and affordable housing.’
Josh adds, ‘Working with Ben, SEFA’s CEO, was great, and SVA and SEFA. They’re good organisations. Without them in circulation it would be harder for an organisation like ours to get started and get money.’
Sustain is currently looking to roll out its next sites in the Hunter region.
‘It won’t be the last project we do with SEFA, … we’ve got big plans for 2015’, Josh says, ‘We’re looking at building 10 this year, if not completed then underway, and we want to just keep increasing after that.’
 Both SEFA and SVA received funds from the Commonwealth Social Enterprise Development Investment Fund (SEDIF).