Jeanette’s Large job is to open a new future for survivors of gender violence through an organisation focused on finding and providing social housing.
In the middle of a global pandemic, the Global Alliance for Banking on Values – the network for the world’s leading values-based banks – talked with Jeanette, and five other pioneers from across the globe, about their vision for a brighter future.
Why now? Jeanette and projects like Women’s Property Initiatives are one of thousands of initiatives financed by values-based banks all over the planet. These banks are changing the meaning of money, putting money in the service of people and the environment. Today, on Banking on Values Day 2020 (24th November), we are celebrating these extraordinary initiatives, the individuals who run them, and the banks that finance them. You can discover how and why this matters so much.
How did you come up with the idea of uniting real estate expertise with the need for social housing, especially for women affected by gender violence?
A long time ago, when I left university, I was working with an unemployment group for young people.
After growing up in a very loving family, I came across young women who had experienced gender violence and partners coveting their homes leaving them with nowhere to live.
That’s where my passion started. I worked for a youth housing organisation for a number of years and later for the board of a government housing organisation. Later, I started working at Women’s Information, support and Housing in the North, which is a great service for women’s homelessness that still exists. But I was frustrated that housing women in transitional housing – supposedly for three to six months – was temporary and didn’t leave people with anywhere to go afterwards.
When I saw the opportunity at Women’s Property Initiatives to develop long-term housing, that’s what I wanted to do. We foster permanent housing that allows women and children to settle, get on with their lives and have a future. The changes in women’s and children’s lives are just fantastic.
You and Women’s Property Initiatives are community builders. What does this mean to you?
When I first started with this initiative, I visited women and children. What was evident was that, for many women, connecting with their neighbourhood was key to feel they were at home. They felt that they were safe walking down the street after many years.
I remember that once one of the children was at home because it was a holiday from school, and she said to me: “I made some friends and I’m walking to school with them. And I’m going to be able to walk there with them until I finish school”. She never had that previously because she had changed schools so often. That’s what community means! It’s feeling you’re safe and not different. It’s social housing, but you live in a house that is like any other. You are like anybody else in the community and you can participate in it.
In general, how does housing reflect gender inequality?
Gender inequality impacts women throughout their whole life. In Australia, 70% of employees in low pay sectors such as education, retail, or healthcare, are women. 40% have part-time or casual work. So women have less to spend on their housing.
Now we’re also finding a particularly serious problem in single, older women. 30% of them are retiring with no pension at all. Their savings are minimal, again because they have been in low pay jobs, were turned out of the workforce or they worked part-time. Homelessness among older women increased by 30%, from 2011 to 2016 according to the last Australian census. In Victoria, the state where I live, it increased by 67%. These women have contributed to society their whole lives and now they are just not treated well. So our organisation is looking at a few different options to address this social need.
How are the women you’re housing and WPI navigating through the pandemic?
Some of the women that are in our housing have seen their lives improve, but many had part-time and casual work, which has gone with the impact of the pandemic. Their income has decreased. At least, in Australia, at the moment, benefits have increased for those eligible for them.
In October, in Melbourne, we were in lockdown, so there were almost no shops open. If you needed to go out, you had to show a document stating that you were going to work (in case you wanted to go further than 5 kilometres from your house).
We acquired some new properties and our property managers have done a great job to get women into them this year. Of course, we have experienced some curious situations. When women move in the tenant and the property manager have to go to the property together. The property manager puts the key in the door and then goes and sit in the car and watches the tenant enter their new home. We couldn’t even go, welcome them, and make sure that everything was ok. But we’ve managed very well.
How do you acquire property and provide it to women and children in need in a sustainable way for them and your initiative?
We must source the funding so that we can build or acquire these properties. We rely heavily on state or federal government, but they don’t provide the full amount we need. We also source quite a lot of philanthropic funding and free professional assistance from lawyers, for example. We manage to find a lot of contributions at a reduced cost. Local councils also sell us land at a reduced price if they are interested in housing being developed in their areas. And we borrow from banks.
How has finance from values-based bank and Global Alliance for Banking on Values member Bank Australia helped you?
Bank Australia have been fantastic for us. Apart from the fact that we have a loan facility with them that is terrific, they come to us and talk about our different projects. They don’t just provide finance, they are really interested in supporting us, in discussing our project. I feel, as a CEO, that I can just pick up the phone and talk to them or they will just come in. The value they add is terrific and they are competitive.
They are also my personal bank, and I get information about all the sustainability projects that they are involved in. It makes you feel like you’re working with a bank that it’s genuinely adding value to society.
Your work is all about creating positive change. What is your vision for the future in your local area?
We are a long way from solving the demand for housing for women and children that need it. Probably 30,000 houses would be needed to do that here.
Step by step, at Women’s Property Initiatives we want to provide houses for a hundred more women and children in 2022. We currently house about 250. So, we are going to work a lot in the next months to achieve that.
I envision a society where everyone has a home, and I mean a home. Because many women that request our help have a house, but not a safe home.
Did you know that…
You can choose between being a customer of a conventional bank or a values-based bank.
Values-based banks deliver quality banking services, just like many other banks. But, unlike most banks, they deliberately focus on finance for entrepreneurs and positive projects in the real economy that benefit people and the environment – like Jeanette and Women’s Property Initiatives.
It’s time to do something for your future!
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