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Superannuation fund HESTA has invested $20 million into a Melbourne apartment project in a bid to improve housing affordability for people who work across “key community occupations” such as nurses, teachers, firefighters and ambos.

The investment, drawn from HESTA’s $70 million Social Impact Investment Trust (SIIT), managed by Social Ventures Australia, will help finance Nightingale Village, a 185-apartment residential project in inner-city Brunswick

Twenty per cent of the apartments have been allocated to “key community contributors” including nurses, aged care workers, and people working in the not-for-profit sector.

HESTA defines a key community contributor as “individuals who perform a function that is vital in the delivery of an important skill or service to our society”.

Occupations meeting the criteria listed include nurses, police officers, firefighters, teachers, ambulance officers, social workers, doctors and individuals supporting vulnerable minority groups.

A further 20% of the apartments were pre-sold to community housing providers, which will allow their eligible clients to rent at reduced rates.

The remainder of the apartments were sold to the general public, many of them first home buyers, who were able to purchase smaller studio apartments with a 5% deposit.

HESTA, who has over 840,000 members and manages $50 billion in members’ assets, says its investment was driven by wanting to achieve returns for its members while at the same time helping to address rising social challenges such as housing affordability.

It says it has evaluated the risks of the investment and is expecting a market-based return for members.

It also believes that the investment could spur other large institutional investors to make similar investments.

“Having a home is a fundamental element of financial security and societal connection and the lack of affordable homes close to major infrastructure is a huge issue for the community and our members,” HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said.

According to HESTA, more than 80% of its members are women who work in the health and community services sector.

Between 2011 and 2016, the number of older women experiencing homelessness in Australia grew by 31%, an increase it says partly motivated the decision to try and improve housing affordability for members.

“Our members deliver critical, life-changing services in their communities and we are looking for investment opportunities that improve their access to secure affordable housing near infrastructure and in proximity to where they work.”

The Brunswick apartment complex marks the fourth project of Nightingale Housing, a company aiming to deliver sustainable housing at an affordable cost.