Unison Housing marks major step towards council housing project

Unison Housing marks major step towards council housing project
Brendan Rees

An ambitious project to build a safe accommodation site for the city’s most vulnerable has taken a major step with Unison Housing having signed a lease agreement.  

The City of Melbourne’s Make Room project will see a council-owned building at 602 Little Bourke St refurbished and converted into a safe and supported accommodation for the city’s rough sleepers.

The $20 million initiative will deliver 50 studio apartments at the former utility building as well as communal living areas, housing and homelessness services and other support for residents.

Each resident will be provided secure accommodation for up to 12 months including critical health and housing support, while they await allocation of longer-term housing.   

By signing an agreement, Unison Housing will be able to start construction later this year with the accommodation services expected to open in late 2023.

Unison CEO James King said his organisation was focused on “accelerating progress to ensure completion is achieved as soon as possible.”

“It is truly amazing to see the support this project has generated from Homes Victoria and philanthropic donors,” he said.


“We firmly believe this project will change the lives of many and feel privileged to deliver it in partnership with the City of Melbourne.” 


Mr King earlier this year told CBD News that the project wasn’t “so much the success” but “the success is when I see rough sleepers being accommodated who otherwise wouldn’t be accommodated in the CBD.”

Many organisations have got behind the project with the council recently securing $1 million from the Gandel Foundation, one of Australia’s largest independent family philanthropic funds.  

Other generous donors include Helen Macpherson Smith Trust, the William Buckland Foundation and the Loti and Victor Smorgon Family Foundation.

The City of Melbourne and its project partners have now secured more than $13.7 million with the state government investing $9 million towards the project. Further funding commitments have also been made from The Ian Potter Foundation ($1.75 million) and the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation ($1 million).

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the project would “make a real and life-long difference” for those who need it most and create a pathway for Melburnians to access social and affordable housing.

“We want to sincerely thank and recognise our philanthropic partners for their generous donations – we are a step closer to putting shovels in the ground and truly making room for those who need it most.”  

Helen Macpherson Smith Trust CEO Debra Morgan said her organisation was “delighted” to back the project and “make a difference” to people experiencing disadvantage.

The Loti and Victor Smorgon Family Foundation said it “proudly supports” the Make Room project “alongside funders committed to finding long term solutions addressing homelessness and rough sleeping in the City of Melbourne.”

William Buckland Foundation acting chair Jenny McGregor said access to safe and secure housing was “a critical piece in improving the lives of disadvantaged Victorians.”

The council will find a suitable space to rehouse an artwork and heritage collection which is currently stored at the Little Bourke St building. •

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