The big talking point this week is the Commonwealth budget, delivered by Treasurer Joe Hockey on Tuesday evening. Disappointingly, the National Rental Affordability Scheme has been cancelled, with Round 5 applications to be rejected and unused incentives from previous Rounds to be clawed back. The only bright spot is that the Minister continues to indicate that NRAS will be reviewed, meaning that there may be the potential for future initiatives to engage private investors in the delivery of affordable housing.
The budget is silent on other housing programs, including funding under the National Affordable Housing Agreement and eligibility for Commonwealth Rent Assistance. Importantly, the budget does not reflect the housing recommendations from the recent Commission of Audit, which effectively proposed that the Commonwealth Government should leave housing to the States, reserving their role only to funding rent assistance to eligible private, public and community tenants. Other changes to housing policy and funding settings may come later this year, in a separate review of the housing system proposed by Minister Andrews.
In addition to direct housing announcements, the changes to welfare payments in the budget will also have a noticeable impact on social housing tenants and providers. There are significant reductions in access to income support for young unemployed people, and restrictions on young people accessing disability support payments. These changes will affect incomes, and therefore rents, for social housing tenants, while increasing the risk of homelessness for many other young people.
Contrary to pre-budget speculation, there is no slow-down in the roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in the budget, which means this is likely to remain a fast-growing area of activity for the community housing industry.
The NSW budget will be delivered on Tuesday 17 June.
The Community Housing Federation of Australia has produced an excellent briefing, which is available here. The full budget papers are available here. The full report of the Commission of Audit is available here.
Recent political changes in NSW have delivered us a new Minister for Family and Community Services: the Hon. Gabrielle Upton MP. Previously the Minister for Sport and Recreation, Minister Upton has been the Member for Vaucluse since the March 2011 election. The Federation has written to the Minister to congratulate her on her new portfolio, and looks forward to meeting her this week. We will be raising the importance of housing, as part of her wider portfolio responsibilities, highlighting the capability of community housing providers, and seeking to initiate discussions about future growth of our industry.
Three Federation members were featured in a major Sydney Morning Herald story on housing affordability and homelessness in Western Sydney over the weekend. Hume, Evolve and Wentworth gave great accounts of their achievements in assisting people into housing, and signalled how much more our industry will be able to achieve with the right policy support from Government. The story is available here.
Save the date! On the afternoon of Thursday 19 June the Federation will join Shelter NSW and Homelessness NSW in acknowledging Mike Allen’s tremendous contribution to housing at a special “farewell from the community sector”. Mike has announced he will retire from his role as Chief Executive of Housing NSW after more than three decades of service to the social housing system. All will be welcome to attend this farewell – more details to be distributed shortly.
AHURI held a valuable workshop this week focusing on maximising opportunities for the community housing industry. Presenters discussed recent research into leading community housing providers here in Australia and in several other countries, to identify how providers navigate their complex operating environments and seek to balance commercial, social and civic outcomes. Participants highlighted the need for community housing to increase its profile to maximise growth opportunities. Presentations from the session are available here.
Community Housing News
New policy research into tenanted property transfers
The Federation has recently published a policy paper articulating the community housing industry’s preferred approach to managing future property transfers. The paper is based on industry-wide consultation and input from key stakeholders, and is informed by the experience of previous property transfers in NSW. It also takes into account the lessons learned from past growth opportunities such as Nation Building and affordable housing programs.
The paper identifies eight key elements of successful tenanted property transfer programs:
- An overarching policy framework which sets out a clear rationale for transfers
- Policies which balance the advantages of competitive tendering against the potential cost and inflexibility
- Realistic requirements for private finance leverage, taking into account portfolio maintenance issues and the long term viability of community housing providers
- Greater control over transferred assets for community housing providers ,and a well-defined process for negotiating asset issues with government
- Access to timely and comprehensive information to undertake due diligence and make informed commercial decisions
- Clarity about tenants’ choices and engagement in the transfer program
- Clarity about the potential transfer of public housing staff
- Evaluation frameworks which systematically capture outcomes related to tenant satisfaction, financial gains, leverage targets and asset improvements.
The full paper is available here.
New policy research into the importance of Commonwealth Rent Assistance for community housing
Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) is crucial to the viability and growth of the community housing industry, according to new national research released by the Community Housing Federation Australia (CHFA) in collaboration with state based community housing peaks. The research found that CRA comprises about one third of a community housing provider’s rental income, which is vital in support industry growth and development, as well as quality tenancy and property management.
The research included interviews and surveys with the CEO or CFO of 24 community housing providers across Australia. The organisations represented the diversity of our industry, including very small organisations, large multi-jurisdictional providers, a mix of specialist and generalist providers, metropolitan and regional organisations. The report also includes a comprehensive literature review.
This research is the first project undertaken by the Community Housing Peaks Policy Network, which was formed in 2013 and is convened by CHFA. The network meets monthly and provides a vehicle for sharing information about the industry in each jurisdiction, the work of each member, and government policy. Additionally, the group collaborates on research and policy development where there is a common interest across organisations or that has a national significance. The paper is available here.
The New Privacy Laws, Risk Management and Community Housing Providers
An informal survey Complispace recently conducted amongst their community housing provider clients indicated that while privacy programs have been in place for community housing providers for a number of years, there are still instances where some privacy issues appear to have slipped between the cracks.
One example is the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information relating to members of a tenant’s household, including information regarding children and young people. Another example is providing information over the phone, for example, rental arrears information to people claiming to be the tenant.
There are undoubtedly a number of other areas where providers collect or use personal information in ways which potentially breach the new privacy laws. These uses probably also breached the old privacy laws but the stakes are now much higher, with penalties of up to $340,000 for individuals and $1.7 million for companies.
The changes to the Privacy Act commenced on 12 March 2014 and introduced 13 Australian Privacy Principles (APPs). These apply in addition to the requirements of the Health Records and Information Privacy (HRIP) Act (NSW). The new laws will apply to community housing providers if they have annual revenues of $3 million or greater or if they provide a health service.
A central feature of the new laws is that organisations must have procedures, practices and systems, integrated within their organisational governance framework, to ensure compliance with each of the 13 APPs. Providers need a privacy compliance program, as well as a complaints handling process.
Organisations should also appoint a person to be the “privacy officer”: someone who will be sufficiently trained to make the tricky decisions such as how to balance privacy obligations with the work health and safety obligations of employees, contractors, and subcontractors.
The first step is to identify and scope the organisation’s privacy risk. Complispace urges providers to ask themselves, do you really know:
- who you collect personal information about?
- who you collect personal information from?
- what types of personal information you collect?
- how you collect it? and
- why are you collecting each piece of information?
See the briefing paper for what to do next.
Free Webinar – Chintaro Explained
Chintaro is a purpose-built, social housing software program developed over the past 15 years with input from Tenancy and Property managers around Australia and New Zealand. Chintaro will be holding a free 1 hour webinar on Friday 23 May 2014 at 12pm. To register please visit the registration page here