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Housing and homelessness - home

Page history last edited by Social Policy Library 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Homepage - Brotherhood timeline  | Service areas - home


The Brotherhood has been involved in housing since its inception, with one of Fr Tuckers driving forces to eradicate the slums of Fitzroy.  The first instance of action in the housing area was in 1933.


Homeless issues and services



First House of St Francis established in Gertrude Street [three terraces houses rented to offer housing to single unemployed men during the Great Depression].  Rent was covered through three groups of Friends one each at St Mary's Mission, St Peter Eastern Hill and St George's Malvern.


St Francis's House, Fitzroy transferred to 2-8 James Street where the first Brotherhood property was purchased.  (check date - Holden says 1936)



After a visit to a slum mission, F. Oswald Barnett, a public accountant and a member of the Methodist Church, became involved in the establishment of the Methodist Babies’ Home in 1929.  In 1934 Barnett formed a study group focused on housing reform, including slum demolition and the establishment of a state financed housing authority.  The Barnett Study Group, which included in its membership, G.K. Tucker, founder of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, became the driving force behind a campaign which led to the establishment of the Housing Commission of Victoria in 1938.



Housing Commission of Victoria formed following the campaign by the Barnett Study Group of which Father Tucker was a member



First research & advocacy publication - John Reeves’ Housing the Forgotten Tenth 



 Housing Campaign Appeal to raise money to deal with the housing of the “problem family



The Brotherhood’s “Slum Films” were shown at a meeting in the Grosvenor Theatre, Melbourne, on Sunday 1 May 1949.  At the conclusion, “the following resolution was moved by Mr W J Towers MLA and seconded by Mr J S Lechte MLA: ‘That this meeting, representing most churches in the City of Melbourne, protests against the money and materials being used on matters of secondary importance, while little is being done to relieve the plight of those living in the slums.  We urge that housing in general and slum clearance in particular should be regarded as matters of national importance, and require immediate attention.’  Copies of the resolution were sent to the Prime Minister, the Premier, and the Lord Mayor.  The Prime Minister replied in person and at some length.  … We are grateful to Mr. Chifley for his prompt and courteous reply.”



Father Tucker gave his support to the call for an Australia-wide housing campaign by the former Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church in Australia. [1]



David Scott accepted the position of “Organising Secretary” in the Brotherhood.  As part of his role he turned the housing campaign news sheet Slum News into an influential social action publication renamed Now!-  a monthly journal to arouse public interest and action on housing, slum reclamation, care of the aged, penal reform and other social questions as part of the BSL’s education and social reform work 



The first Housing Commission estate was the mid 1950s St. Laurence Estate, off Hanover Street.  This consisted of 60 (approx) walk-ups in the estate bordered by Fleet and Hanover Streets. These include 8 elderly person's units at 45 Fleet Street. (Check date).   [2]  (See Also: Family Service Project)



BSL operates a community centre in a small Army hut at East Preston in co-operation with the Housing Commission as part of the Family Service Project.  Some activities are organised in conjunction with the East Preston Community Association but the premises are deteriorating. (Annual report 1958).


“Father Tucker … made several extensive country tours promoting interest in housing for elderly people and assisting committees to plan local projects.” (Annual Report, 1957).


Minister of Housing and Immigration  Slum Reclamation Conference on the 4th of April 1957. Conference was convened to explore ways and means of accelerating the clearance and rebuilding of sub-standard housing areas in the inner suburbs, particularly to ascertain the prospects of obtaining finance from other than Government sources to carry out the work. Both David Scott and Archdeacon GT Sambell both spoke at this conference. The outcome of this conference was a proposal for the sale of land cleared of sub-standard housing by the Housing Commission for development by private building interests. This led to the formation of a new company and the building of Hotham Gardens.



Housing Priorities published in November to highlight certain aspects of the Commonwealth-States Housing Agreement. (Annual Report, 1960).


East Preston Youth & Community Centre established at a Public Meeting convened by the Mayor of Preston in September following the Housing Commission’s decision to cease supporting the BSL’s work after June 1961.  The BSL offers to provide a Youth Leader for two years as its contribution. (Annual report, 1959).



Publication of Leisure: A Study of a New Housing Estate (David Scott & Robert Uren)  “This was a response to newspaper articles over a period of time characterising the new housing estates as social deserts; the study aimed to ascertain the real situation.”  Published by F.W. Cheshire, it was supported by a grant of £200 from the Myer Foundation that allowed the edition of 1,000 copies to be sold at a price permitting a wide circulation.




Elaine Martin joined the BSL as the first social worker appointed in a research capacity and begins work on a major study of the housing problem of low income families.  The aim of the study is “to give a qualitative picture of the kinds of accommodation which some families are obliged to occupy, the choice available to them, the effect of living in overcrowded, obsolete housing, and the impact of high rents”. (Annual report 1962/63).



Publication of High Rents and Low Incomes: Housing Problems of Low Income Families (Elaine Martin).  It reported that low-income families (those on social service benefits and those living on less than £1,000 per year) “especially those with two or more children, have almost no hope of finding suitable accommodation on the current housing market at a price which they can afford, either through purchase or rental”.  [4]


Research began on a second study on families in Housing Commission flats as a “response to assertions which were largely unfounded and socially denigrating about the attitudes of tenants to high rise-flats”.   This was completed in 1996 and published in 1967 as High Living: A Study of Family Life in Flats (Anne Stevenson, Elaine Martin & Judith O'Neil).  [5]



“High Living” research project on high-rise public housing continued.


Wide acceptance and demand led to the reprinting of the report High Rents and Low Incomes: Housing Problems of Low Income Families (Elaine Martin). (Annual report 1964/65).



Demolition commenced for the future “Atherton Gardens” High-rise Estate following compulsory acquisition of property in the area bounded by Brunswick, Gertrude, Napier and King William Streets in Fitzroy (1966-1969). This presented new problems in re-housing as the population included many single immigrant men and elderly people, and a number, particularly male pensioners, were not eligible for re-housing by the Housing Commission.  The demolition displaced 557 people, to be replaced in less than two years by 3,024 people including 1,568 children.


The need for emergency accommodation led the Brotherhood to rent a two-storey house in North Fitzroy which was fully occupied through the year, with many applications having to be refused.  “The project has demonstrated that emergency housing is an essential provision very much lacking in the welfare facilities of this State.  Financial aid to the extent of $13,000 was provided and the (Social Service) Bureau will have to continue meeting this need until more realistic statutory provision is made to meet emergency financial situations and social service benefits are more adequate for certain groups.”  [6]


Experiments with emergency accommodation.


The BSL prepared a report following the Housing Commission’s refusal to accommodate single male pensioners except in rare circumstances, a position the BSL considered to be unjust and based more on prejudice than objective fact.  The Commission indicated that there was a very long waiting list of women, who were the first responsibility and that they were housing about 200 lone men, most of them widowed since they became tenants.     The BSL then responded “it is time to wonder whether we should take a lead in this current situation by demonstrating the value of well-run rooming houses for single men.  … At the present moment our budget is a matter of immediate concern and keeping present services going takes obvious precedence over developing new ones.  Is this a scheme we should think of developing when we have the money?”


Leisure: A Study of a New Housing Estate (David Scott & Robert Uren), published in 1962 and sold out in 1964, was reprinted.  (Brotherhood News, September 1966).



The Leith Trust provided a grant to allow the BSL to award three bursaries for two-year professional youth leadership training.  It was hoped that the new graduates would work in one of several outer suburban new housing estates. [7]



In 1968-1969 the BSL’s social workers in Fitzroy & Broadmeadows provided more than $12,000 in aid to families with problems in areas such as housing, employment, health, education, marriage, child care and difficulties with court cases and debts. (Brotherhood Action, Dec 1969).


Concerned about the lack of suitable accommodation for single or widowed pensioners in the Fitzroy area, the BSL felt that the need for Hostel type accommodation was urgent.  The Housing Commission flats being built in Brunswick Street were for families and not replacing any of the single accommodation that was demolished to make way for them.  The BSL began considering the possibility of building a Hostel for pensioners at the rear of the Headquarters building, in conjunction with a planned extension and redevelopment of the Youth & Children’s Centre. (This resulted in the building of Sumner House Hostel.) 


The emergency housing project in North Fitzroy demonstrated that emergency housing was an essential provision very much lacking in the welfare facilities of Victoria.  The Brotherhood funded this project, hoping to continue meeting this need until more realistic statutory provision was made to meet emergency financial situations and social service benefits were more adequate for certain groups. However, in 1969 the condition of the house and the cost of maintaining the lease and running costs resulted in the closure at the end of May.  Recommendations for meeting emergency problems in the future were based on a report on the thirty families who had used this resource. (Annual report 1966/67 p.3, 5)



Housing Commission High Rise tower completed at 95 Napier Street, Fitzroy on the Atherton Gardens Estate.  [8]



The BSL hosted a one-day visit in May of participants in a Canberra-based International Training Course in Development Administration.  Administrators from India, Indonesia, Korea, Malawi, Nigeria, Nepal, New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore and Pakistan.  The day included talks on the development of Melbourne and the role of the Housing Commission, a bus tour of inner suburbs to examine the variety of housing development, and input and discussion on outer suburban development and the social problems associated with urban redevelopment.  (Brotherhood Action, September 1971).


Fitzroy Ecumenical Centre and the BSL jointly appointed a social policy officer (Mr. Andrew Burbridge) with responsibility for research and fact gathering on questions related to social policy in areas such as housing and drawing together the information needed to advocate appropriate policies.



The Commonwealth Government established a Commission of Enquiry into Poverty under Professor Ronald Henderson of the University of Melbourne.  In broad terms the Inquiry was to investigate the extent and distribution of poverty in Australia, and its causes.  In addition it was to look at current alleviation programs, both public and private, alternative methods of reducing poverty in Australia and associated matters.  Assisting Professor Henderson were social worker, Hayden Raysmith; housing expert, Andrew Burbridge; agricultural economist, Warwick Papst; statistician, Bruce Burraston; economist, Ian Manning; administrator, Maurice O’Keefe, and secretary, John Gibson.  Submissions were due by 16 April 1973. (Brotherhood Action, December 1972).


Two joint papers on housing finance and policies on rehabilitation of old housing stock (released in conjunction with the Fitzroy Ecumenical Centre). [9]


The BSL hosted a one-day visit in April of 27 participants studying “Social Problems in Urban Development” in the Department of Foreign Affairs Course in Development Administration.  The day included a bus tour of inner suburbs to examine the variety of housing development, and lectures ranged from the historical development of Melbourne as a city and the role of the Housing Commission in urban development, to the special housing problems associated with low income families and the aged, and citizen participation in the planning processes. (Brotherhood Action, June 1972).



Research (by Carol Ride) commenced on the experiences of  60 low-income families in seeking housing which satisfied their needs during three years. This report was published in March 1976.  [10]


Block of six single flats purchased in Moor Street, Fitzroy for independent living in an endeavour to increase the stock of housing for the aged in the inner city, made possible by a grant from the Ian Potter Foundation. (Annual Report, 1973).



David Scott (Executive Director) visited the United Kingdom where he studied social welfare and social security policies and programs.  particular service areas he looked into were proposals for guaranteed minimum income, supplementary benefits, pilot projects in community development and services for the aged and housing.  During his 10-week trip, as Chairman of Community Aid Abroad (CAA) he included two weeks in India where he visited CAA projects. (Brotherhood Action, March 1974)



A Management Committee was formed to take over responsibility for the management and development of G.K. Tucker Park at Carrum Downs.  This committee was made up of local representatives of three adjoining councils (the Shires of Cranbourne, Dandenong and Frankston), service groups, staff and people with particular interests and qualifications in housing for elderly people. (Brotherhood Action, June 1975)



Following David Scott’s visit to England in 1974 where he was convinced that rental housing associations could make a valuable contribution  by providing a new form of housing management in Australia, the idea was taken up by SHELTER and a Rental Housing Association Subcommittee was formed.  In November a proposal was made to the Victorian Minister for Housing, Mr Geoff Hayes.  (Brotherhood Action, September 1977)



Fitzroy-Collingwood Rental Housing Association formed to manage properties purchased by the Victorian Housing Commission to provide accommodation for low-income people who were being displaced by the increase in property values



The BSL urged the Victorian Minister of Housing to stop selling Housing Commission houses at least until there was a much larger stock of rental housing available for low-income people.  The Commission had built 28,000 houses in the metropolitan area but in 1989 had only 6,800 available for rental. While there were 16,000 flats for rent, many were regarded officially as unsuitable for families.  (Brotherhood Action, August 1980).



The Victorian Ministry of Housing started a Home Renovation Service similar to the BSL’s Home Improvement Service (begun in West Geelong in 1979).  Because of the similarity between the two services, the Ministry allocated $20,000 to the BSL to continue the Home Improvement Service for 1981-1982.  (Brotherhood Action, August 1981).


The Northcote Accommodation Project was developed by the Brotherhood to provide accommodation for homeless, unemployed young people to help them acquire the physical, social and emotional skills for independent living.  This was funded with $50,000 from the Anglican Diocese, $20,000 through the Brotherhood’s Jubilee Appeal, and $11,000 from the Northcote City Council.  A house in Thornbury was leased from the Victorian Ministry of Housing.  The funds and the proposal were handed over to the local community “as part of the Brotherhood’s new policy of providing resources to local areas with particular needs”.



The BSL wrote to the Prime Minister and Members of Cabinet protesting at the Government’s failure to provide more help to low-income tenants as rising interest rates forced up rents and encouraged private landlords to sell off their properties.  The Federal and Victorian Governments stepped in to assist homebuyers hit by interest rates, but only $20 million in additional funds had been given to rental housing assistance. (brotherhood Action, April 1982).


BSL Board adopted the proposal by Jean Elder (BSL social worker) for a pilot group housing program for older people based in two houses and to be sponsored by the BSL for a period of two years. (Brotherhood Action, October 1982).



As an experiment in alternative living for older people, a Shared Housing pilot project (the Group Housing Program for Older People) began with the first property being a Moonee Ponds house purchased in June through the support of the Voluntary Helpers Shop.  The first four tenants took up residence in November.  The second house was bought late in 1983 by the then Ministry of Housing in Brunswick for four tenants.  The aim was to create another option with advantages not found in the other models of residential care, offering companionship and mutual support in shared living.  For the tenants the experience of sharing had both good and bad features and the project came to an end in 1990.    [11]


Following negotiations with Fitzroy City Council and the Ministry of Housing about ways of preserving the whole of Glass Terrace in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, the Ministry of Housing agreed to purchase the three Brotherhood boarding houses in order to restore the entire terrace. The Brotherhood's houses had been used since 1972 for low cost rooming accommodation.  (Brotherhood Action, June 1983).



St Mary’s Mission House, Fitzroy was converted into a rooming house for 25 people and renamed Millott House in honour of Jessica Millott who worked with the Coolibah Club for thirty years.  The supervisor, Ken Pound, and a group of twelve long-standing Fitzroy residents moved in from the BSL’s rooming house in Glass Terrace following its purchase by the Ministry of Housing for renovation. [12]


The Group Housing Program for Older People was extended into a third year with the purchase by the Brotherhood of a three bedroom house in Richmond (to allow comparison with the two other four bedroom houses in the program).  Applications for residency were sought through the Councils for each area.



At Carinya nursing home in Box Hill the four-roomed staff flat was converted into independent accommodation units, with one or two available for respite care, a step between shared housing such as the Brotherhood’s Group Housing Project and hostel accommodation..



Peter Hollingworth appointed by Federal Minister for Housing to chair National Committee of Non-Government Organisations to review existing housing programs and identify emerging needs as preparation for the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless.



A video Be it ever so humble … a film about some of Australia’s housing problems, produced as part of the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless and narrated by Bishop Peter Hollingworth.


National Committee of Non-Government Organisations for the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless (Peter Hollingworth, chair) produced the report Towards fair shares in Australian Housing for national consultations.



National Committee of Non-Government Organisations (Peter Hollingworth, chair), following consultations, produced recommendations on housing policies for the Federal Government.



  1. The Age”, National Housing Drive Supported”, Tuesday 3 January 1950, p.3
  2. 25 May 2009 and 25 May 2009
  3. David Scott & Robert Uren Leisure (BSL Library 790.0135 SCO). BSL Annual Report 1961-1962 p.16 (no numbering). Also David Scott in Catherine Magree (ed.) Looking forward, looking back: The Brotherhood’s role in changing views of poverty 1993 p.11 (BSL Library 362.506094 BRO)
  4. The Brotherhood News June 1964 (No.165) pp.1-2 (no numbering). BSL Annual Report 1963-1964 p.2 & 7. Martin, Elaine M., High rents and low incomes: housing problems of low-income families 1964 (BSL Library 301.54 MAR)
  5. Anne Stevenson, Elaine Martin & Judith O'Neil High living : a study of family life in flats (BSL Library 301.54 STE)
  6. BSL Annual Report 1966-1967 p.3 See also Experiments with accommodation by Janet Paterson, Director of Research and Social Action
  7. The course was the Social Welfare Department Course of Professional Youth Leadership. The bursaries were worth $1,000 each per year. Need for skilled personnel The Brotherhood News March 1968 (No.180) p.2 and p.5 Three conditions were stipulated for the successful applicants: “They must have a personal commitment to a Church, it can be of any belief; they must be prepared to work under bond for two years on the completion of the course; they must be prepared to work in an ecumenical setting in an outer suburban housing estate.”
  8. email from Helen Shield, Collingwood Housing Office (2 Mar 2009). The Fitzroy high-rise towers were completed as follows - 95 Napier St Fitzroy was built in 1970; 90 Brunswick St Fitzroy in 1971; 140 Brunswick St Fitzroy in 1971; 125 Napier St Fitzroy in 1971. The Collingwood high-rise towers were completed as follows - 229 & 253 Hoddle Street Collingwood completed in 1968; 240 Wellington Street Collingwood completed in 1971.
  9. BSL Annual Report 1971-1972 p.2 (no numbering). See also Brotherhood Action June 1973 (No.201) p.10 [
  10. Carol Ride The Housing Battle: A study of the housing difficulties of 60 low-income families March 1976 pp.5-6 (BSL Library 301.54 RED)
  11. BSL Annual Report 1982-1983 p.4. Also Justin McDermott & Leonard Peady Shared House, Private Life (BSL Library 363.59099451 MCD); Leonard Peady A Review of the Brotherhood’s shared housing project for older people (BSL Library 363.59099451 PEA)
  12. Brotherhood Action December 1983 (No.250) p.1 and June 1985 (No.259) p.4 (No numbering). Also BSL Annual Report 1983-1984 pp.2 & 5

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