Better social housing protects the vulnerable and the environment

Published: 11 June 2021

A not-for-profit community housing organisation, Women’s Property Initiatives, teamed up with Sustainability Victoria and Melbourne home builder, SJD Homes, to design and build 6 energy-efficient townhouses for vulnerable women in Melbourne’s east.

Women’s Property Initiatives is a 21-year-old not-for-profit, community housing organisation that creates new beginnings for women facing homelessness by providing permanent and affordable homes, access to support networks and ongoing advocacy.

“When you’re running a not-for-profit, every dollar counts,” explained Jeanette Large, CEO at Women’s Property Initiatives. “It’s been exciting to work on this project and find out that we can provide affordable and energy efficient social housing at relatively little extra cost. It’s a win for us, our tenants and the environment.”

Objective

In 2020, Sustainability Victoria and SJD agreed to include 6 homes for the Women’s Property Initiatives in the Zero Net Carbon Homes program to show that social housing can be designed and built to be more energy-efficient, yet remain affordable.

What is social housing?

Social housing is short and long-term rental housing that is owned and run by the government or not-for-profit agencies. It is for people on low incomes who need housing, especially those who have recently experienced homelessness, family violence or have other special needs.

Image of a home similar to the one’s mentioned in this case study.

Building energy-efficient social housing

The 6 homes were designed, built, and tested for energy efficiency and comfort. They offer better thermal comfort all year round and are healthier to live in.

The homes were designed to produce more energy than they use. This makes them affordable to live in and reduces the greenhouse gas emissions they create.

Renewable energy is generated onsite by north-facing 5 kW solar PV systems on each home. The average energy cost for the homes varies between $593 and $868 per year. That’s $50 to $72 per month for electricity.

Energy-efficient features

  • Orientation – living rooms that face north, which makes them light and comfortable, year round.
  • Shading – eaves shading the north elevations to reduce exposure to the summer sun.
  • Energy-efficient appliances – Sandon Eco Heat Pumps for hot water, induction cooktops and efficient heating and cooling systems.
  • Thicker insulation in ceiling and walls
  • Double-glazed windows
  • 5 kW solar panels on the roof
  • Fully electric – to make the most of the solar PV and lock in the zero net carbon status for the lifetime of the home, in its current configuration.

Key benefits

  • Lower long-term maintenance costs.
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions to help meet the Victorian Government’s target of net zero emissions by 2050.
  • Better thermal comfort.
  • Healthier living environment.
  • Affordable.
  • Lower electricity bills.

The need for better quality social housing

Homelessness is a growing issue in Victoria. The Victorian Government recently announced an initiative to address this, by committing to building new social housing.

According to a 2019 inquiry by Infrastructure Victoria into homelessness in Victoria for those vulnerable to homelessness, social housing has a statistically significant positive impact in reducing the likelihood of becoming homeless.

Sustainability Victoria’s research into the health impacts of climate change (2020) shows that most healthcare professionals identify poor quality housing for the most vulnerable people as an issue in relation to climate change health impacts.

Almost half (45%) of public housing survey participants have left their home at some stage to go to a local shopping centre as it was either too hot or too cold to stay at home. More than half reported that their home was either too hot last summer (65%) or too cold last winter (61%).

For more information, read Linking climate change and health impacts research snapshot (pdf, 1.3 mB), (docx, 1.8mB).

“Everyone is entitled to a safe and secure home. Investing in energy efficient social housing is a substantive and enduring way for government to provide better quality homes that achieve our zero net emissions target by 2050. Thanks to the Zero Net Carbon Homes program, social housing providers can now access a wealth of information to design and build high quality energy efficient homes for our more vulnerable members of society.”
Claire Ferres Miles, CEO at Sustainability Victoria.

Outcomes

The project showed that it is possible to build a great quality and energy-efficient home for our more vulnerable members of society – and at an affordable cost.

The new homes were rated 6.6 to 6.9 stars under the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS). The star rating varied due to the difference in layout between the homes.

The current minimum rating under the National Construction Code is 6 stars, although there is currently a consultation out from the Australian Building Codes Board to consider 7 stars in the future.

“This is a great example of social and sustainable housing,” said Jeanette Large, CEO at Women’s Property Initiatives. “It is a wonderful outcome for our community, a comfortable home and reduced energy costs.”

Key takeaways

  • It is possible to build affordable social housing that is sustainable, energy efficient and comfortable to live in.
  • Yearly energy costs can be very low, which is especially important for social housing.
  • Creating affordable homes for people in need is a triple win: it’s good for the government and not-for-profits that build social housing; it offers more comfort and cheaper living costs to tenants; and it reduces greenhouse gas emissions, which is good for our planet.