Andrew Wilson, GM of Accessible Properties, has been involved in community housing since the 1990’s. At the end of this year he leaves his role and takes a well-earned semi-retirement. He talked to Community Housing Aotearoa’s Angie Cairncross, about his involvement in the sector and the key influences he’s seen over this period.
Andrew Wilson left, with Megan Woods MP for Wigram, and Andrew Olsen LifeMark General Manager in 2014 opening a new home in Christchurch part-funded by a Social Housing Fund grant
Andrew Wilson’s involvement in community housing has been through the IHC, initially through his son’s connection with the charity. As a trained civil engineer with a background in management and building sector standards, he became a member of their Property Board then their General Manager, Properties in 2001 and later set up Accessible Properties, IHC’s property arm, in 2010.
His long history in community housing includes time on the Community Housing Aotearoa Council when it was first set up in 2005, as Chairperson in 2006-2009 and Treasurer for the remainder of his six years of service on the Council. He’s seen a lot of the changes the sector have been through over that time.
Andrew counts the sector’s fruitful communication to government on the benefits non-government public housing provides as one of the key successes during this time. Another was the influence on the sectors growth from the Housing Shareholders Advisory Group (an advisory group to government) and the focus group that guided MSD’s involvement that Andrew attended. Recommendations from the HSAG 2010 report[i] have been behind much of the policy reforms in social housing since, including a greater role in this area for community housing.
The freedom to innovate under the Social Housing Fund was crucial for the sector. Andrew believes it was a huge opportunity for growth. ”We developed some 200 homes because of it,” says Andrew.
“Setting-up a level playing field made a huge difference too. Having the ability to get Income Related Rent Subsidies on an equal footing to Housing New Zealand made a big difference for the sector, and for tenants. It made the provision of community housing a good alternative to state housing while enabling it to be a sustainable, viable option, long-term.”
“The government has listened to the sector about our ability to do things and they understand there’s real benefits in working with us.” One benefit being the sector’s understanding of their tenants and their issues, another their ability to quickly adapt, respond to change, and innovate.
But the contractual environment they’ve put in is a result of government’s natural risk aversion, he says, stifles the ability of community housing providers to be innovative, responsive, and adaptive.
“They need to get the balance right so the contractual arrangement gives us the ability to shine and deliver on the natural benefits of being an NGO. Yes - there are infrastructure requirements government need to see before community housing providers can grow to scale, but they haven’t quite got the balance right yet.”
Accessible Properties has been on a fast-growth trajectory taking on opportunities to buy 344 Hamilton City Council properties in 2016 and some 1100 Housing New Zealand properties in Tauranga earlier this year - so he has some experience of the procurement environment.
Andrew says we need a whole lot of additional homes provided in community housing all over New Zealand but many of the providers don’t have the size of asset base to grow at-scale yet – owning the titles of assets enables this – that’s why the transfer of state housing has always been seen as a way of growing the sector, or grants, to leverage more growth and therefore more homes.
Success going forward is how funding this growth can happen.
“Something we found in Tauranga has been a type of institutional relationship between tenant and landlord – rather than seeing the homes as their own and having pride in it, there’s a type of dependency relationship between landlord and tenant that shouldn’t be there.”
He says there needs to be an awareness and acceptance of both tenancy rights but also responsibilities. This requires good communication and good tenancy management.
“Good tenancy management is important, so that it humanises the process,” he says. “We’ve doubled the number of tenancy managers in Tauranga and trained them so they are multi-skilled to meet the range of tenant demands, from maintenance, disputes, arrears and other support.”
Andrew is planning to work as a consultant part-time when he retires at Christmas– he doesn’t think he can stop out-right – that’s in-between building a house in Nelson, travelling, and going on the odd tramp. He knows he’s leaving Accessible Properties in good hands. Ex Wellington City Housing Manager, Vicki McLaren, has taken on managing the Tauranga portfolio and Greg Orchard, ex Housing New Zealand and Wellington City Council, has taken over Andrew’s previous role as Chief Executive.
All the best Andrew, Community Housing Aotearoa thank you for all your contributions over these many years.
[i] Home and Housed: A vision for Social Housing in New Zealand (April 2010); Housing Shareholders Advisory Group