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September 2016

Contents

  1. CEO Talking Points
  2. Federation Exchange review
  3. Strategic Risk
  4. Conference Report
  5. Strategic Commissioning project
  6. IPART Inquiry
  7. City of Parramatta survey
  8. Wentworth to address rental pressure in Hills District with Affordable Housing
  9. SGCH named ‘Employer of Choice’
  10. Argyle- social awareness challenge for youth
  11.  Volunteers needed for ‘Heading Home – Ending Homelessness Here’
  12. In the News

CEO Talking Points

The Federation held its first quarterly member Exchange last week (see below) with over 150 people attending  from providers across NSW (and beyond). As we met, the NSW Treasurer introduced the Social and Affordable Housing Fund bill into the Legislative Assembly. While initially it will pay out operating subsidy payments for 25 years to support 3000 new social and affordable homes, the proposals would allow for the Government to significantly expand the Fund to address the severe affordable housing shortfalls in Sydney and many parts of NSW.

Also as we met, the Productivity Commission (PC) which is inquiring into whether and if so how competition and user choice could improve services,  released its stage 1 report - Introducing Competition and Informed User Choice into Human Services.  

In this report the PC identifies six services that will be further investigated to assess the practicalities and likely outcomes from doing so. Social housing is one service chosen. In selecting this service the Inquiry Team assessed the scope to improve services, the costs to users, service providers and the system overall and whether the nature of transactions would allow. For example it is much less likely users could exercise choice when needing crisis accommodation.

The Federation and its members believe there is much that is positive in the report concerning social housing.  It notes the financial pressures faced by State governments across Australia in maintaining and improving public housing; it points out that where public housing is now managed by the not for profit community housing sector tenant satisfaction is higher and property condition is better. The community housing sector has other advantages for tenants, the organisations being subject to both contracts and independent regulation.  Correctly, we believe, the report does acknowledge that where a state service can demonstrate- using the same criteria as the community housing sector- it achieves the best outcomes and can continue to do so, then it should remain the provider.

While a voucher type system (hinted at in the report) has ostensible attractions – an eligible user can use this to select a property – the reality in other jurisdictions is that market rents in many areas are far higher than the voucher payment.  This type of system also does little to encourage new supply  - clearly a key need if user choice is going to mean anything real.

The report also includes family and community services in the six priority areas. Services to homeless people and those experiencing domestic violence come under the definition. The PC report does correctly identify many government failings in commissioning these services many of which have for many years been delivered by the not for profit sector. In recent years the commissioning process did reduce the diversity of service provider and illustrates the challenge in balancing choice and reducing costs. Another challenge is to choice in this sector in particular will be its appropriateness for crisis accommodation.

The Inquiry Team is inviting comments by 27 October 2016.

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Federation Exchange

The Federation Exchange was held on 21st and 22nd of September. As well as a consultation with FACS, the Federation's professional networks attended a concurrent sessions on a variety of topics which are summarised below.

The full summary of sessions is available here.

At the Planning Network Rebecca Richardson (Managing Director, Urbanista), Gary White (Chief Planner, Department of Planning and Environment)  and David Birds (Policy Adviser, Department of Planning and Environment) spoke to the group. Rebecca discussed prioritising research projects to help strengthen our key messages, such as setting affordable housing targets and mapping government land. Gary spoke about adapting the planning system to the current mega-trends and moving away from prescriptive zoning models to plan for proper outcomes around housing and employment. David from the Department of Planning and Environment gave an update on the review of State Environment Planning Policies. 

The Asset and Development Network sessions covered topics such as preparing for property transfers, clean energy and NABERS - a rating tool for apartment buildings.  Alex from Energy for the People spoke about helping to create and inspire a new energy market, which ensures its clients understand their clean energy options and have the tools in place to make sustainable and affordable energy choices.  Caroline from the Office of Environment and Heritage spoke of the NABERS tool which could help inform procurement decisions and could lead to a reduction of energy bills for tenants.

With the Asset and Development Network, CEOs and Finance Officers, Mark Reader discussed transfers and tenders in preparation for the session with Paul Vevers from FACS. Paul Vevers confirmed that details such as the size, location and maintenance arrangements of the portfolios would be subject to Cabinet approval and Ministerial announcement and that tender would be released in the New Year.

At the Finance Officers Network there was a discussion on risk scenarios given by two experienced members of the community housing industry: anticipating and dealing with severe events that threaten organisational viability. Trevor Wetmore, former CFO of SGCH presented externally-imposed scenarios, while Joan Ferguson, CEO of The Housing Trust discussed potential internal scenario risks.

The Community Development Network included sessions on a range of topics on tenant engagement innovations, programs and tools. Natasha from Link Housing (and on secondment from the UK) presented some case studies from the UK which showed innovation in tenant engagement practices. This included innovation in conducting tenant satisfaction surveys; developing scrutiny panels; tenant engagement on sustainability initiatives; and the use of tenant board members and tenant representatives. Adam West from the Federation introduced Well-being surveys and indicators, including the Personal Well-being Index. Kate Hopkins from Office of Environment and Heritage spoke about the Home Energy Action Program, of which the aim is to reduce energy hardship and financial stress, and improve quality of life. Alex from Energy for The People introduced The People’s Solar - a crowdfunding platform for community solar projects, where the financial value of energy savings are invested back in communities. And finally, Pam Pryor gave an introduction and update on the work undertaken by the Tenant Network.

The Middle Managers’ session was an opportunity to share sector-related matters, including best practice examples. Consultant Sue Cripps provided an overview of the Domestic and Family Violence toolkit, including information about additional tools to assist providers to respond effectively to domestic and family violence and an update of the pilot being conducted by 6 community housing providers. Guest speakers Anna Doherty (Department of Premier and Cabinet) and Rebecca Huntsman (Principal Project Officer, Customer Service & Business Improvement, FACS) explained the results of a trial conducted by the Behavioural Insights unit. Yasmina Kovacevic (A/Director, NSW Housing Appeals Committee) discussed checklists for balanced decisions for senior managers that offer some practical tools/templates/methodologies. Kevin Saide, Training Manager, Centre for Training in Social Housing, provided an update about the roll-out of the new Certificate IV in Social Housing qualification. Amanda from the Registrar of Community Housing invited Middle Managers to comment on the draft Complaint Management Framework with the potential of this being converted to an online tool after feedback has been received.

At the HR Network Adam West, Manager, Business Development, spoke first about House Keys Workforce 2015. Adam is asking for feedback from HR managers for new indicators and system developments for House Keys: Workforce 2016. Kevin Saide, Training Manager at the Federation, then spoke generally about remuneration of staff and what instruments are used – the Equal Remuneration Order along with the SCHADS Award was most common.

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Managing Strategic Risk – Stage 2 Publication

At a moment when community housing providers are expanding and diversifying their operations, tenants, housing applicants, investors and government have every right to expect that our members manage their business risks well. Together with the NSW Registrar of Community Housing  - (the sector’s regulator)  the Federation engaged Elton Consulting to investigate risk management practice across all NSW providers (Stage 1) and then to carry out four in-depth case studies covering the experience of managing specific strategic risks. We chose specific examples of different approaches. The four case studies cover: using partnerships to support growth; expansion across different jurisdictions; merger and acquisition, and growth via business diversification rather than significant increases in property portfolio.

The study has involved housing providers in both Scotland and Australia as we wanted to understand the approaches taken by organisations with a longer history of government supported expansion. Positively, both sectors seem to have sound processes conforming to external risk management standards. What was interesting from Stage 1 was that the Scottish sector with its longer property development history no longer rated these risks particularly highly but prioritised basic business operations such as income collection- a reflection of the anticipated changes in welfare benefit entitlements. Adverse change in government policy, (i.e. sovereign risk) was perceived as a major key risk by both sectors and its external stakeholders.

The Federation has already held sessions to publicise the emerging findings at its 2016 Affordable Housing Conference and at its member meetings. Follow up work to introduce practical tools is also about to begin, partially supported - as was this study - by the NSW Industry Development Strategy.

Stage 1 report is HERE and Stage 2 case studies are available here:

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2016 Affordable Housing Conference report available

The Federation is pleased to release its 2016 Affordable Housing Conference Report following the success of the conference. Click here to read about the pre-conference activities that were held along with key points from the variety of sessions during the conference. Also included are reflections from Ivan Simon (Conference Chair), Katherine McKernan (Homelessness NSW) and Wendy Hayhurst (NSW Federation of Housing Associations). We would like to thank all our sponsors for making this event possible and to the speakers and facilitators who shared their knowledge, expertise and ideas with us.

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Strategic Commissioning of Social and Affordable Housing Project

The project for the Strategic Commissioning of Social and Affordable Housing kicked off this week with the inception meeting. The project will initiate an informed debate with key stakeholders on the need for and the delivery principles of a strategic, evidenced-based approach to commissioning social and affordable housing. The project group met with SGS Economic & Planning to review the work plan and refine the goals for the projects. We have a number of key stakeholders who will provide valuable insights into the research including representatives from:

  1. Greater Sydney Commission
  2. NSW Family & Community Services
  3. NSW Department of Planning & Environment
  4. NSW Department of Premier & Cabinet
  5. NSW Treasury
  6. PAYCE
  7. Renewal SA
  8. The Committee for Sydney
  9. University of Technology Sydney
  10. UrbanGrowth NSW
  11. Westpac

We expect the Interim Report to be available in November with project completion before Christmas. Thank you to all the providers who made this project possible.

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IPART: Review of the Local Government Rating System

The IPART: Review of the Local Government Rating System is moving closer to being finalised.  Comments on the draft IPART report are due on 14th October.  The Federation has been working with colleagues from the sector to put forward the case for CHPs maintaining their partial exemptions from rates. The current partial exemption under section 556 of the LG Act enables community housing providers to provide more affordable housing and better services for their clients.

The Federation made an initial submission to the review which is available to view HERE and Rebecca Richardson from Urbanista provided initial background information for a further submission - available to view here.

The central planks of the Federation’s position are that:

  • Partial rate relief should continue to be available for Affordable Housing Projects; and
  • Councils should have the capacity to offer rate relief under their Local Housing Strategies

These positions are consistent with the taxation principles enunciated by IPART and their objectives for:

  • providing rate relief for land uses which provide legitimate public benefits;
  • improving flexibility for local government by ensuring that the full range of powers is available to meet local objectives.

There are two further opportunities to make the case for CHPs maintaining their partial exemptions or at the least allowing exemptions as a possible lever for councils as part of their affordable housing policies.  These are:

  • A second public hearing to be held in Dubbo on 10th October.  More details here.  The relevant part of the hearing will run from 12 - 1.00.  Members who wish to attend should register and can attend as part of the audience or request to join the panel (please contact Adam West adamw@communityhousing.org.au  if you would like a speaking role so he can put you in touch with the right person at IPART).
  • There is also a final chance to make a submission on the draft IPART report and we will be concentrating our efforts on this.  If you have anything to add to the background document that you would like us to include in the submission please provide any comments to the Federation by 7th October so that we can meet the submission deadline.  In particular if you have any data on what impact the loss of partial rates exemptions would mean for your organisations we would like to hear from you as soon as possible.

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What is your vision for the City of Parramatta?

The City of Parramatta wants your thoughts and ideas on what the area should look and feel like in the future. The City of Parramatta welcomes feedback from community housing providers via an online survey available here. Or through its workshop that will be held on Saturday 5 November. More information available here.

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Wentworth’s keystone affordable housing project to address rental pressure in The Hills District

Unused land which long sat vacant alongside the Rouse Hill Town Centre in The Hills Shire has been renewed and transformed into affordable housing for about 50 residents with the opening today of Wentworth Community Housing’s apartments.

A first for Wentworth Community Housing in The Hills Shire, the 28 unit property which provides rents to occupants up to 75 per cent the local market rate is nearing full occupancy, and houses tenants who are employed across a wide range of sectors including retail, financial and community services.

Wentworth Chief Executive Officer, Stephen McIntyre, said the Rouse Hill affordable housing apartments will ease rental pressure on tenants and provide much-needed affordable accommodation close to shopping, community services and transport. “The abundance of applications received from prospective tenants highlights the need for affordable housing in The Hills District where rents are approximately 30-60 per cent higher than the adjacent Blacktown LGA."

“Increasing the supply of affordable housing for those who need it and providing strong community connections are key aspects of our work. This is why in addition to the affordability of the housing and its location, it’s important the design of the apartments promote resident interaction and community engagement. Achieving these three elements has been central to making Rouse Hill a flagship affordable housing project for Wentworth,” said Mr McIntyre.

-Extract from media release by Wentworth Housing. Read the full media release here

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SGCH named ‘Employer of Choice’ (NFP)

12 September 2016 – SGCH was named Employer of Choice (NFP) at the Australian HR Awards in Sydney.

The awards celebrate excellence in the HR profession, recognising individuals, teams and companies for their outstanding achievements in people management. Finalists in the Employer of Choice (NFP) category were judged on staff engagement, organisational values, learning and development, staff benefits, diversity initiatives, work life balance initiatives and human resources achievements.

“We are very honoured to receive this award,” said Scott Langford, CEO of SGCH Group.
Mr Langford joined the community housing provider as CEO in March this year.
“At SGCH our staff are passionate, committed to our customers and supportive and encouraging of each other,” he said.

SGCH believes its greatest strengths are its people and culture. “We have a very strong focus on learning and development and appreciate that for high engagement, which leads to high performance, people need to feel they have the skills and resources to do their job and opportunities to learn,” said Suellen McCaffrey, General Manager of People and Group Services. “We also invest significantly in values and culture, building capability and alignment, increasing awareness and strengthening conversations”.

Having been through substantial change and growth over the past few years, SGCH has been adaptive, resilient, innovative and readily able to embrace change. “We have maintained very high staff engagement and satisfaction scores over a number of years, achieving our overall highest staff satisfaction rating, 86% and an engagement score of 80% in 2015,” Ms McCaffrey said. “These reflect the intangible strength of a team that makes SGCH a great workplace,” she concluded.

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Argyle- social awareness challenge for youth

With thanks to the support of the nib foundation, Argyle launches a unique social awareness challenge this week, for youth living within community housing from the Wingecarribee through to the Macarthur regions. Coined 6 Worthy Weeks, this grass roots initiative is designed to inspire young people to notice others in need of help and then find a solution to this need.
“At Argyle, we understand that we must take a unique approach when it comes to supporting and inspiring young people. Encouraging this generation to strive for greater confidence, respect and empathy for others is key to building a better future for our communities.” – Wendy Middleton, CEO Argyle Housing.

Tenants aged 14-19 years who commit a minimum of 10 hours over 6 weeks will receive recognition from their community, a certificate of completion and a $200 voucher towards an area of vocational interest or educational expense. Two rounds will be run in 2016, 25 participants at a time – starting in the Wingecarribee, Macarthur and Wollondilly.
nib foundation Executive Officer, Amy Tribe, said Argyle’s 6 Worthy Weeks challenge is an innovative way to engage young people and foster positive action at a grassroots level.
“This initiative not only promises to unearth some unique ways to lend a helping hand to vulnerable people in the community, but will also support the young participants to gain skills in creativity and leadership.”

The $5,000 grant from nib foundation has allowed Argyle to develop and pilot this new initiative and we look forward to sharing the results of this partnership throughout the year together.

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Volunteers needed for ‘Heading Home – Ending Homelessness Here’

This project is seeking volunteers to be trained alongside staff from key homelessness services like Wentworth Community Housing, Platform Youth Services and Mission Australia. The training takes half a day and will be available on 28th, 30th and 31st October. Volunteers will be trained in conducting surveys with people who are homeless. The survey collection will occur 1st, 2nd and 3rd of November during what is called Registry Week. For more information click here.

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In the News

Over the last month, the Federation and Wendy Hayhurst have been referenced in the following news articles:

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