By Rhonda Dredge
A social conscience is a difficult concept that many struggle with but few conquer. Robert Pradolin is an ideas person on housing and he’s letting his social conscience drive him.
That means he’s ready to cop the flak from those who see him as a big-noter, a property developer turned homelessness consultant.
He doesn’t care. He wants to “get shit done”. He’s sending out press statements on the internet and criticising government.
Last week he got a call from Sydney to say that an aged care facility was about to be converted into crisis accommodation using a pro bono model that he pioneered in Melbourne and he’s happy.
“That model has been adopted nationally,” he said. “It got 160,000 views from around the country.”
Living in a high rise in the city for 25 years has made Robert determined to fix what he calls our “housing stress”. He wants to use his contacts and years of experience in property development for the public good. He’s particularly concerned about the rise in female rough sleepers over the age of 50.
As a working-class kid from Noble Park, he was “taught the values of fairness and doing the right thing” and they began to dominate his life after a motor bike accident left him and his wife unconscious in St Kilda Rd seven years ago.
“I nearly died,” he said. Six months of counselling later and his social conscience began dictating his moves. Three years after that he had quit his job as a property developer for Frasers (Australand).
Now he sits at a coffee table promoting his charity Housing All Australians and brokering deals. He has used his powers of persuasion to assemble a new A team to begin work on his third shelter in Melbourne and he’s on a roll.
The first was a YWCA pop-up shelter for women in South Melbourne, the second the remodeled City Mission youth shelter in King Street and now, the most ambitious of all, will be the conversion of a six-storey building in the CBD that is currently empty.
“There’s a rule of thumb,” he said. “The amount of work for free has to be justified by the length of the lease. Many buildings are empty for three to five years while planning approval is gained. There are thousands of them.”
He’s calling on the private sector to fill in a gap created by government.
“After many years of sitting at round tables with new ministers and talking about the same stuff nothing ever happens. The private sector has to lead. No more re-announcing announcements!”
He’s also critical of those organisations that hinged their programs to Labor’s grand vision for the construction of 300,000 new affordable houses. “What was their plan B?” he asks.
Robert is respected in the industry for his developments, particularly the Freshwater Place residential tower in Southbank. He has lived there and, in the BP building in St Kilda Road, one of the first commercial towers to be converted.
“I like the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city. People in the CBD are not wedded to a particular community. I spend all my time in the CBD, doing work, talking to people all day. It’s about relationships. I like moving around. I don’t have an office.”