Housing Matters – June 2018


CEO Introduction

June has been a busy month for us; the NSW Federation of Housing Associations moved office, launched its new website and started trading under a new name – CHIA NSW. At the same time we have been finalising arrangements for the NSW 2018 Affordable Housing Conference ‘Everybody’s Home’.  With the support of our sponsors – large and small – we have been able to assemble a great program with excellent speakers. We’ve had a few last minute additions and adjustments. A particular thanks to the Hon Paul Green MLC for joining the final panel session with the Lord Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore, Tania Mihailuk MP and Jenny Leong MP.

One of our international speakers known to many of you, Craig Sanderson, CEO at Link Group in Scotland, has had to pull out after suffering a heart attack last week. Thankfully, the good news is that he’s recovering well and we look forward to seeing him out here another time. Craig’s place is being taken by Professor Kenneth Gibb, director of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence and based at the University of Glasgow . Ken is preparing a video for us about ‘The challenges for a National Housing Strategy – the Scottish Experience’.

Ken’s session also features contributions from Scott Figenshow (NZ), Rosanna Mcgregor (Canada) and Hal Pawson. Brett Wake (National Manager Operations, CHL) will be facilitating a lively debate -with we hope plenty of audience participation -about what we all need to do to get Australia the national housing strategy it so badly needs.

CHIA NSW is pleased to see the National Housing and Finance Investment Corporation (NHFIC) appoint its first chair, Brendan Crotty. We’ve long advocated for a bond aggregator  with Piers Williamson CEO at The Housing Finance Corporation our key note conference speaker back in 2016. Like the Australian Treasury led Affordable Housing Working Group we believe that the bond aggregator on its own isn’t sufficient to make much difference to the social and affordable housing numbers. Governments at both the Federal and State levels need to invest – through any combination of land, capital grant and tax incentive. Until they do the numbers of homeless people, households living in rental stress or those unable to leave substandard or overcrowded accommodation will continue to rise.

The NSW Government brought down its 2018 Budget on 19 June. The budget contained some additional resources for housing – circa $15m per annum over four years to assist responses to homelessness and a total of circa $33M over the same period for Aboriginal housing. Existing programs Communities Plus and the Social and Affordable Housing Fund are welcome but add only a small proportion of the new additional social and affordable homes needed across NSW. We can also anticipate more affordable housing via development contributions in coming years. But a lot more is going to be needed if the cost of living for many in the State is to be really addressed.  

ACHIA – NSW Aboriginal Community Housing Industry Association

The ACHIA Interim Committee have much to celebrate this month. After their considerable hard work over the last 12 months, June has brought two pieces of excellent news. The Aboriginal Housing Office and NSW Depart of Family and Community Services have demonstrated their ongoing support by providing grant funding for another two years. We would like to acknowledge the many Government staff who have worked with to help establish ACHIA and give a special mention to Sally Kubiak and Nick Sabel at the AHO. The grant allows us to appoint additional staff to help co-ordinate ACHIA’s work and ensure the Aboriginal Community Housing Providers are well represented.

At the same time as the financial support came through the CHIA NSW Board approved a key foundational document – the Charter which describes how ACHIA will work and be governed.

A draft has been out for feedback and consultation with the sector and the final version is ACHIA Charter.

The ACHIA Committee believes that it is too early to aim for full independence and to set ACHIA up as separate legal entity. So at this early stage in ACHIA’s development CHIA NSW has offered to continue to provide the auspices for the establishment of ACHIA.   The CHIA NSW Board wishes to make it clear that the CHIA NSW does not have any interest of its own in retaining this role in the long-term and believes fully in self-determination.  CHIA NSW will support moves to further promote the independence of ACHIA (for example, by establishing ACHIA as a separate legal entity) whenever this is desired by ACHIA.

ACHIA’s Purpose

The purpose of ACHIA is to be the industry body for Aboriginal Community Housing Providers in NSW and in doing so:

  • promote the human rights of all Aboriginal people in NSW to decent, affordable and secure housing;
  • promote the right of all Aboriginal people to self-determination, including the right to choose a culturally appropriate social landlord;
  • develop and support public policy which promotes a more just housing system for Aboriginal people in NSW;
  • in partnership with counterpart organisations across Australia, develop and promote policy at a national level for housing justice and self-determination for Aboriginal people;
  • support the development of best practice in the provision of housing for Aboriginal people by encouraging networking and collaboration between Aboriginal Community Housing Providers; and
  • support the provision of culturally appropriate housing by mainstream community housing providers.

ACHIA will formally launch its Charter at the Aboriginal Caucus Day on 26th June.  We are planning to hold ACHIA elections before the end of 2018.

NSW Homelessness Strategy

In last month’s issue we highlighted the Australian Homelessness Monitor 2018 funded by Launch Housing and researched and written by UNSW’s City Futures  and Social Policy Research Centre, and University of Queensland’s  Institute for Social Science Research. It showed not just Sydney but also NSW experiencing increasingly high rates of homelessness. In five years homelessness in Sydney had jumped 48% in Sydney and 37% in NSW; far greater than elsewhere in Australia.

So the publication of the NSW Homelessness Strategy on June 10 setting out the Government’s five year plan to tackle homelessness is very welcome. Its focus is on preventing people slipping into homelessness, intervening early and providing better support services.

It does not shy away from the numbers and paints a picture of what lies behind those headline figures. In 2016/17, 36,000 young people, aged 24 or younger used specialist homelessness services – an increase of 37% from 2013/14. The report goes on to say ‘90% of young people experiencing homelessness have witnessed violence in their home, 60 per cent have been in OOHC, and 50 per cent have a reported mental health issue’.’’ Talking about domestic and family violence the report notes ‘Despite only making up 3.3 per cent of the national population, one quarter of people in Australia accessing SHS due to DFV identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.’ Older people make up an increasing proportion of homeless people. ‘More than 15 per cent of people experiencing homelessness are over the age of 55 and this figure is increasing. Between 2013/14 and 2016/17, NSW saw 88 per cent growth in the number of women over the age of 55 years accessing homelessness services.’

On top of the existing funding, an additional $15M per annum over four years is allocated to social impact investment to prevent homelessness, to expand sustaining tenancy supports and add to the transitional accommodation numbers.

Amongst the new initiatives is one to expand the use of universal screening tools for homelessness and risk of homelessness in schools so services can intervene early. The initiative is based on the Geelong Model that demonstrated that young people referred for assistance were able to maintain school attendance and did not slip into homelessness. At the other end of the age spectrum the intention is to ‘deliver targeted social housing options for older women in four to five locations, to be evaluated for expansion. Positively this includes reference to the model developed for the Sydney Women’s Homeless Alliance.

Also to be applauded is the focus on a whole of government approach exemplified by the development of the Human Services Outcomes Framework and its application for homelessness, including ‘introducing cross-agency requirements for reporting on homelessness outcomes’. Justice, Education and Health will also be involved. As referred to in last month’s Housing Matters but worth repeating is the whole of Government cost of keeping someone homelessness rather than providing them with a home and where necessary supports. A whole of Government approach allows a whole of government approach to counting the cost. See the evidence.

In one area the strategy possibly does not go far enough by including the role social landlords can play in sustaining tenancies. For example FACS has supported and continues to support projects that build on CHP’s existing practice to enhance responses to (for example) people experiencing domestic and family violence or who have complex needs. See an example here.

The strategy does not address the overwhelming shortage of social and affordable housing that is driving the rises in homelessness. It acknowledges the issue and references two existing initiatives that between them will add an extra 10,000 to 12,000 social and affordable homes over the next 10-15 years. As welcome as those these schemes are, this amount of new additional construction does not keep pace with population growth and means the existing shortfalls will increase. Tackling homelessness without more housing isn’t going to be easy.

Housing, Homelessness and Mental Health

The focus on a need for additional affordable housing supply is capturing some in the health professions. As the Homelessness Monitor mentioned above noted in its report, AIHW data collected from specialist homelessness services in 2016/17 indicates that over a quarter of people accessing services reported mental ill health as an issue associated with their homelessness.

Last year the National Mental Health Commission (NMHC) held a national consultation to build a better understanding of the connection between housing, homelessness and mental health. They held workshops, carried out a survey and spoke to stakeholders about the key issues and gaps for people with lived experience of mental illness when they attempt to secure housing. The reports from the sessions and the overall paper can be accessed here.

While the service integration issue is recognised as important  as are more responsive and understanding tenancy management services, the sheer lack of secure affordable housing is the overwhelming gap preventing both recovery and contributing to worsening conditions. Traditionally the focus in the mental health profession has been on the clinical and therapeutic responses – and it will remain but instances of individuals being discharged from programs and / or institutions into insecure housing and even homelessness is shifting their focus.

The Commission has appointed AHURI to conduct more in-depth research to inform its policy advice to government. The research is composed of a literature review and policy analysis, investigative panels and workshops. CHIA NSW is one of the ‘housing’ panel members along with CHIA, National Shelter, Housing Choices and the National Affordable Housing Consortium. The other participants were mental health professionals from across the country.

Amongst the lively debate was the suggestion that perhaps in some cases the best health intervention might be housing. Not too farfetched as this example  from NY state indicates. The State calculated that ‘New York Medicaid payments for nursing-facility stays are $217 per day, as compared with costs of $50 to $70 per day for supportive housing. Furthermore, preventing even a few inpatient hospitalizations, at $2,219 per day, could pay for many days of supportive housing. Hence a pilot to examine the outcomes. It will be interesting to see if the NMHC work helps promote similar trials here.

AHURI conference on Affordable Housing Supply Solutions

On 29 May, AHURI hosted Ready for Growth a national conference focusing on Affordable Housing Supply Solutions.

The conference was an opportunity to hear from the major parties on their support for affordable housing. The Hon Michael Sukkar MP, Assistant Minister to the Federal Treasurer spoke about the new National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation and the negotiations with States and Territories over the new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement with its requirement that they produce credible housing strategies.

Senator Hon Doug Cameron, Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness highlighted data which shows the extent of affordability challenges for many Australians and teased some of the solutions Labor is considering including in its manifesto for the forthcoming Federal election.

The conference also saw the launch of new AHURI research on affordable housing. The inquiry into increasing affordable housing supply: Evidence-based principles and strategies for Australian policy and practice includes three strands of research:

  1. Supporting affordable housing supply: inclusionary planning in new and renewing communities
  2. Government led innovations in affordable housing delivery
  3. Paying for affordable housing in different market contexts

Conference sessions linked to these strands of the research:

Professor Nicole Gurran, University of Sydney, spoke about the research team’s analysis of the contributions to affordable housing made by different planning systems. The research suggests that while the planning system can play a role, it is most effective when working to support other initiatives.

Professor Steven Rowley, Curtin University, spoke about government led innovations and facilitated a panel discussion. This session highlighted the need for government leadership and meaningful long term commitments to delivering affordable housing outcomes.

Professor Bill Randolph, University of NSW gave a presentation on paying for affordable housing, showing his team’s model on the impacts of different market contexts. This session highlighted something that Senator Cameron had highlighted in his opening address – the need for government to support affordable housing delivery by addressing the yield gap.

SDA Pricing and Payments Framework Review

The Department of Social Security (DSS) has commissioned KPMG to carry out a review of the SDA Pricing and Payments Framework. The review was scheduled to take place three years into the operation of the Framework which commenced in 2015 and covers the period to June 2021.

The SDA Pricing and Payments Framework provides guidance to people managing or owning existing disability accommodation, and to investors looking to develop new SDA accommodation. This guidance includes areas such as benchmark pricing, dwelling price calculations, participant eligibility, dwelling eligibility and registration, and quality and safeguards.

A national group of community housing peaks has agreed to work together to provide input to the review and has engaged Joseph Connellan to draft the joint response. Joseph has consulted with a couple of providers in most jurisdictions, including NSW, as the basis for preparing a draft submission which was then sent to all CHIA NSW members for comment. NSW was also represented at the roundtable held in Sydney for SDA providers by the CEO of BlueCHP, Charles Northcote.

One change CHIA NSW members want to see is the introduction of an SDA pre-approval process so that new developments an be let ‘off plan’.  This would ensure that not for profit providers on tight margins do not lose much needed income.

Providers also raised concerns about the lack of demand data currently available to guide investment decisions, and that the introduction of negotiated SDA prices delivered a level of uncertainty that could drive away investors.

The review is scheduled to be completed by August 2018 and will be considered by the COAG Disability Reform Council at its meeting in September 2018.

Lessons we can learn from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Many in the community housing industry will have been following the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. No one can forget the horrific scenes just over a year ago on 14 June 2017 when a fire in one flat spread rapidly through the whole building leaving 72 people dead. While the immediate focus was on the cladding used in the tower’s renovation, other issues around the management of the building, fire prevention and safety and regulation also emerged. The Inquiry’s terms of reference reflect these broader concerns.

Grenfell Tower is owned by the Royal London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. At the time of the fire, management was carried out under contract by a large Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) Kensington and Chelsea TMO. The TMO had been operating for many years, managed all the Council’s social housing and reported to a Board.

While there are differences between the UK and Australia, the principles and standards around asset and tenancy management services, design and construction, strong governance and external regulation should be the same. Its timely then to consider the lessons when the community housing industry looks to expand and the National Regulatory System for Community Housing is about to be reviewed.

With permission from Housing Quality Network a not for profit organisation based in the UK Housing Matters is reprinting a recent blog from their CEO Alistair McIntosh who spent time in NSW working with CHIA NSW on scenario planning with CHP boards. The article pulls no punches about what in the UK needs to change and should get us thinking here too.

Grenfell Inquiry – Why expert evidence is terrifying for boards

Grenfell must change the way we do things for ever. We are starting to see the experts’ reports to the Inquiry. If they are right, we have a long road to travel on safety. This is a big deal for your board.

Let’s get one thing clear. For a lot of its history the board of the Kensington TMO was just like any other housing board. It had a very similar mix of the great and the good. And at times it had industry heavyweights round the table. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you are better than them. It is for the Inquiry and the courts to say what the TMO got right and wrong. Time will tell. But we can learn a lot now from the submissions to the Inquiry.

Let’s see how sharp you are. This is a minute from a TMO board meeting.

“Grenfell Tower Refurbishment – close liaison with London Fire Brigade and Fire Risk Assessor throughout the duration of the project. At the conclusion of the work some of the operational firefighters from the local Fire Station attended an onsite briefing where the contractor demonstrated the fire safety features of the building.”

Yep that’s what they were told. What questions would you have asked? Would you have asked any? Everything looks fine doesn’t it? It wasn’t.

What does a real expert make of it? Here’s what Professor Torero says in his evidence. The language is hard going. But the verdict is lacerating for all of us. So, read it.

“The regulatory framework relies very heavily on competent professionals to provide the necessary interpretation that will bridge the gaps and resolve the ambiguities left by functional requirements, guidelines and standardized tests. Nevertheless, a competent engineer should be capable of interpreting the requirement to ‘adequately resist the spread of fire over the walls…having regard to the height, use and position of the building’ within the context of the needs of the fire safety strategy in the case of a specific tall building. In the case of the fire safety strategy of Grenfell Tower, ‘adequately resist’ should have been interpreted as being ‘no’ external fire spread.

“There is currently no definition of what is the competency required from these professionals, or skill verification approaches that should be used, so as to guarantee that those involved in the design … implementation, acceptance and maintenance of these systems can deliver societally acceptable … levels of safety. There is a need to shift from a culture that inappropriately trivializes ‘compliance’ to a culture that recognizes complexity in ‘compliance’ and therefore values ‘competency,’ ‘performance’ and ‘quality.’ Otherwise, the increasing complexity of building systems will drive society in unidentified paths towards irresponsible deregulation by incompetency.” [My emphasis]

If he is correct we are not good enough. And we need better advisors too. Note the use of the term engineer. That is someone who knows what they are doing and can prove it. The professor is setting the bar high and no wonder.

I was appalled by the reaction to the Hackitt report. She suggested that we need to take a systematic approach to safety. What did a lot of the sector say? No, we want to go back to ticking boxes. Get someone to tell us that such and such a component is safe, and we will use it thus washing our hands of all responsibility. Hackitt and Torero give that idea short shrift. It never was that easy and it never will be that easy. When is there ever one single solution to a problem?

Where does this leave boards? On one level it is terrifying. Mistakes can have fatal consequences. And the assurances you thought you had turn to dust. No one will want to be on a board, will they? Then things will grind to a halt.

There is a way to sort this out. It is time for the assurance industry to step up. Let us have no more tick box internal audit reports. Please stop asking consultants to churn out pointless governance reviews. I call them Feng Shui reports because they drone on about the layout of the room. Who cares? It doesn’t matter a jot. Then there are the drive by stock surveys that miss the bleedin’ obvious.

It seems to me that lots of money is wasted on phoney assurance. Stop that and spend the money instead on the sorts of experts that Torero talks about. They will really help boards to sleep at night.

But boards will need to work harder and smarter. There is no way round that. I was flabbergasted when I read that new councillors in a borough that also had fire safety issues were complaining about 600-page long planning papers. Don’t forget these are key to safety, you must start from the right point. Their answer was to ask for speed reading courses. It might be better to go for training by experts. Then you can ask for sharper reports that get to the nub of the matter a lot quicker.

As you read what the experts have to say about Grenfell you quickly realise that regulation can’t stay as it is. We are going to have to bring back inspection or something like it. The IDAs these days look mainly at the money. Yes, that is a big deal. But it is not as important as safety. You’ve got to say that our current system of regulation is not fit for purpose to put it mildly. It was set up with the wrong priorities. The RSH (or someone) will be asked to get a grip on safety by the government. That is certain. You can expect to be inspected on how you keep tenants safe. And you must show that you listen to their concerns and act on them. But this time there will be no one size fits all official guidance (like the old Audit Commission KLOEs) or tick boxes to help you. Hackitt and Torero are right to put an end to spoon feeding. That’s when good people switch off and things go badly wrong.

By Alistair McIntosh, HQN Chief Executive

Farewell to Kevin Saide, Training Manager CTS

As many of you may know by now I am leaving the position of Training Manager on the 29th June 2018 to move to Victoria whilst continuing to do some training delivery online.

I started at The Federation as a Trainer nearly 10 years ago having come from 30 years working in and later managing housing / homelessness services in Queensland.

Having heard Sydney was in trouble I came down here to see what I could do (despite all my cousins pleading for me to stay in Queensland) and landed a job at Sterling College as an Assessor. Well, my good intentions of saving Sydney didn’t work as Sterling College was closed within 3 months of my arriving due to many compliance issues.

A couple of temporary jobs later I landed in the office of Laurel Draffen at The Federation who obviously saw some good in this smartass Queenslander (aren’t we all) and offered me a position as Trainer and Assessor (temporary until proven) which I am pleased to say I did some 6 months later.

I must say having been a sole Manager of organisations with whom the buck stopped I wondered how I might go working for two Managers, Laurel and Adam the CEO. Well two CEOs later I am still here and have thoroughly enjoyed working for Adam, Lucy and Wendy. Former and current staff are incredibly committed to the Federation (now of course CHIA NSW) and I will miss the daily contact.

I have been more than impressed and humbled by the number of dedicated, compassionate and devoted people I have met who work in the housing and homelessness sectors from CEOs to administrative staff who are often the frontline people for all organisations.

So now to Victoria a State also in trouble to see if I can be of some service.

City West Housing welcome new Head of Development

City West have announced that Lisa Sorrentino is joining their team as Head of Development this week to help make affordable housing for people on very low to moderate incomes a reality in Sydney.  Prior to joining City West Housing Lisa worked on urban renewal projects at Urban Growth NSW and also previously worked at Stockland in apartment delivery and business development.

Lisa is an experienced residential development executive with over 15 years of end to end development experience in urban renewal, mixed use, retirement living, and build to rent sectors within Australia and the United States.

As Head of Development Lisa will be responsible for all aspects of project development from acquisitions to handover to the tenancy team.

Lisa will help to ensure a strong pipeline of affordable housing developments will continue whilst leading the ongoing development of our five upcoming projects currently under construction or in planning.

Lisa said, “I am enthusiastic to join the team at City West Housing and looking forward to working closely with a range of stakeholders in the future to ensure we continue to contribute to the increase of the Affordable Housing supply in Sydney.”

Leonie King, CEO of City West Housing said “We are excited to have a developer of Lisa’s calibre joining our team. Like City West Housing, she is passionate about providing housing which is affordable for people on lower incomes. With ambitious plans for future developments underway in Sydney we look forward to working together to make living and working locally a reality for more people.”

Media mentions

Over the past month CHIA NSW and CEO Wendy Hayhurst have been mentioned in the following news articles:

To kick off build-to-rent housing, taxes may have to be less progressive (30/05/2018)

NSW budget spends on transport, families (20/06/2018)

CHIA Exchange (formerly Fed Ex)Save the Date: 12 & 13 September 2018

Please save the date for the next CHIA Exchange.  We will hold the next FedEx over 2 days on the 12 and 13 September 2018 at a new, more convenient venue – the Mercure Grand Central.  The new venue is a few minutes’ walk from Central Station in Sydney.  More information surrounding the event will be sent in the coming weeks.