A Melbourne property developer is on a mission to develop social and affordable housing on a national scale. He’s starting with what some might describe as a quirky idea for pop-up shelters, starting in the Melbourne CBD. He spoke to Lina Caneva about his plans.
Robert Pradolin knows property, both commercial and residential, and at this stage in his long career as a developer he’s looking for something more.
Pradolin is a former general manager of Frasers Property Australia and board member of the Property Industry Foundation. Over time his interest has moved to housing affordability and he is now a strong advocate in this space.
Pradolin joined Frasers Property Australia back in 1998. Frasers Property’s activities across Australia included the development of residential land, housing and apartments, as well as commercial and industrial properties and property management.
He’s currently on the executive board of a number of industry groups such as the Property Council in Victoria (as the joint vice president), the Residential Development Council, the Housing Industry Association and the Heritage Council of Victoria.
Through his involvement in Frasers Property’s two social housing developments in Victoria, Pradolin says he gained an insight into the essential nature of affordable and social housing for key workers and those that need support services.
More immediately he has come up with the concept of pop-up shelters for people sleeping rough in the Melbourne CBD and has garnered support from sections of the Not for Profit and property sectors.
“The concept of pop-up shelters was conceived when I was having a coffee with my daughter Demi in Degraves Street and a homeless person came up to us and asked for some money to pay for accommodation for the night,” Pradolin says.
“We started discussing the issue and it was when the use of the Grand Hall at Flinders Street Station was in the news and we said what a pity it had been lying empty for over 10 years and not being used to provide shelter.”
The idea has progressed significantly from there.
“Since that time, which is over eight months ago, we have been talking to the City of Melbourne and [Not for Profit homeless support agency] Launch Housing about the concept and how to make it happen,” he says.
The concept of the pop-up shelter is to utilise existing infrastructure such as vacant office buildings that are going through a long redevelopment process and use them to help partially solve the short term shelter issues around homelessness.
Pradolin is enthusiastic when he explains that the city buildings already have existing amenities such as toilets and showers.
“So to create the pop-up cubicles, which are individually secured for short term accommodation, for our homeless during this period makes sense,” he says.
“During the planning process these buildings are sitting there idle and not being productive for anybody. It’s a great way for property owners to assist, at no cost or liability to them, in providing the badly needed shelter.
“Once the development approval has been granted and marketing is about to begin, the pop up shelters can be dismantled and hopefully be relocated to another site that is going through a similar redevelopment phase.”
Pradolin says his pop-up shelter concept is a win-win for every body.
“For example, 555 Collins Street is an existing office building that is about to go through a planning process which will take at least 12 months and will sit idle during this period,” he says.
“The cubicles would be created using a panelised system which is easy to erect and dismantle and is already being used by hire firms such as Harry the Hirer.”
Pradolin says the more he thinks about the concept, “the more it makes sense” and it is something that the Property Industry Foundation is in the best position to assist and make happen.
“I believe that it is in our interests both socially and economically to help people in our society that have had a rough life and are in need of some basic requirements such as a roof over their head especially in winter,” he says.
“We must continue to think differently to solve society’s problems. It’s a waste of resources to allow existing buildings to sit dormant while an approval process is underway and while people are sleeping on our streets.”
Pradolin says he made just one phone call to discuss his idea with Simon Gray, the managing director of ProBuild Australia, who immediately said he loved the concept and that the company would be happy to assist.
“ProBuild recognises that our communities are under stress and the number of homeless, not only in Melbourne but around Australia, are growing in number and we believe we all have an obligation to assist where we can,” Gray says.
“The concept of pop up shelters erected in buildings that are lying idle and waiting for redevelopment, is a great concept and could be applied across the entire country.”
Not for Profit homeless housing and real estate provider, Launch Housing has been in discussion with Pradolin since the concept was first considered.
Deputy chief executive Heather Holst says she joined the discussions with Pradolin because “we are losing that battle a bit because of the lack of proper housing to get these people sleeping rough out of the weather”.
“He’s got a lot of connections into the commercial property sector and I thought it was worth exploring and adding our knowledge of what the minimum standards that people would need to feel ok and feel safe,” Holst says.
“We have been talking to him about how he could get his industry people to make the fit-out compliant with rooming house regulations and what sort of locations people would respond best too.”
She says getting building owners over the line and willing to take it to the next level of work in setting up a shelter is the most difficult aspect.
As well she says other homeless agencies have raised an eyebrow about Launch Housing’s interest in this short term or stop-gap proposal.
“I think we have surprised a few of our colleague agencies because we don’t call for temporary shelter,” Holst says.
“That’s not our number one call by any means but the number of people who are out in the weather is really bad and I think we have slipped back quite a long way to a point where we need to have those sort of pure shelter responses as well as proper support and longer term housing in-built.
“What we currently have is not enough. These men and women who are sleeping rough, they need social housing generally speaking rather than private sector real estate. They just don’t have much money to spend and they also often need other supports.
“I think [the pop up shelter concept] is quite practical. But I think it needs to be part of a wide array of things that the agency workers have at their disposal. So you might be working with someone who is sleeping rough who absolutely has to go into crisis accommodation where there is 24-hour staff and extra services including meals. And yet others just need to get out of the weather while they work with a caseworker to get their next start.”
Holst has also sat around the table in discussions with the Melbourne City Council and says the city is supportive of the idea.
“They [Melbourne City Council] need to be comfortable with the proposal,” she says.
“There has got to be no fire risk or risks of harm to people who are going into the shelters.”
Time may be the biggest issue in getting the pop-up shelters operating in a Melbourne winter.
“We might need a couple of months for the building of the partitioning etc. So the first one that we get might be the slowest one but then the next one we should be able to move partitions into fairly quickly,” Holst says.
She says Launch Housing’s role would be to direct people to the shelters, and their teams in the city would keep working with people while they were in the pop-up shelters through into the next stage.
“This has to be very short term …people can’t get stuck there.”
After 18 years with Fraser Property and a lifetime in the property industry, Pradolin says it is time to take his passion for affordable housing and knowledge further.
“I believe we need to push ourselves outside our normal paradigms of thinking if we want to achieve real change, find new solutions to existing problems and achieve great results,” he says.
Pradolin says he is now taking the conversation to super funds and governments.
“Now it’s time we think differently about how to mobilise private capital in the supply of social and affordable housing so that every Australian has access to a stable place to call home,” he says.
“This requires a paradigm shift in thinking within both federal and state governments and the private sector. However, the long term productivity and economic benefits for Australia, if we do think differently and find new solutions, are significant and should not be underestimated.
“If I was running government as a business I would consider the costs in the long term of not housing people through the impact on civil issues around hospitals, police and courts etc…and you can actually build a very strong economic case that if you don’t provide housing for people who need it, both from an affordable housing perspective such as key workers and for those who just can’t afford it… then it is going to cost the economy in the long run a lot of money.
“During my career, I have learnt that it is the relationships we form with the people we deal with that ultimately provide the opportunities we have in life. If we build relationships and work collaboratively and with trust, we can achieve amazing things that others just sit and wonder ‘how did they do that’.”
This article was published in Pro Bono Australia. Click below for the original article.