What if we put tenants first?

Nov 1, 2016 | News

Pirihima/Nga Potiki Papākainga

While less than 1% of Victoria’s population are Aboriginal, they still number 54,000 with half living in Melbourne. They are an indigenous group of Australians experiencing high rates of homelessness, with many in social housing, low rates of home ownership and a picture of severe disadvantage.

Conference delegates all clapped on hearing that the full transfer of 1446 properties from the state of Victoria to AHV had been confirmed. This is occurring in three tranches between 2016 and 2018.

AHV see this transfer as part of a journey to self-determination after the many years of colonisation and alienation experienced by the indigenous population of Australia. It has been the result of years of hard work and proving themselves as a credibile housing provider.

AHV began their accreditation as a registered housing association in 2001. By 2008 they had tenancy management of 1448 Government houses tenanted by Aboriginal Victorians in a lease arrangement with the Government in a rent retention model. In 2013 they took over the responsive maintenance of the properties and in 2015 the ownership of 76 properties. Full ownership of the remaining properties will be transferred to them in 2018.

Jenny Sams of Aboriginal Housing Victoria

For AHV, ownership means they now have an asset base of $236m that will rise to almost $500m in 2018 with an opportunity for growth and realignment of stock. While the asset comes across at nil consideration there is no rent subsidy. And, says Jennie Sams, they still have to manage depreciating stockwhile being a good landlord and supporting their community, many of whom are very disadvantaged.

Jenny Sams says if it had been a competitive bidding process they would not have succeeded as they did not have the size nor capacity that other housing providers in their area had.

AHV’s approach has been a balance between cost, performance and risk. Its long-term objectives are to enable an increase in available stock, better design and more suitable housing with lowermaintenance costs; and aiming to reduce costs for tenants and long term viability of AHV. It has enabled greater tenant engagement and an expansion of services to tenants that includes community engagement and changing tenant expectations through employment and training opportunities, pathways to home ownership and household aspiration plans.

The New Zealand process

The market sounding process for the transfer of Housing New Zealand stock in Tauranga (and Invercargill) in New Zealand commenced in August last year, beginning a commercially oriented procurement process that is still underway.In November 2015 Government requested expressions of interest from organisations or consortia interested in becoming the social housing provider. Organisations did not necessarily need to have an existing presence in Tauranga and did not necessarily need to be able to provide all the services by themselves as they were able to choose to form a consortium, or sub-contract partners.

The Government identified Tauranga as a region with solid social housing demand and looked for a long-term partner to deliver the region’s social housing needs who would grow the level of social housing in Tauranga.[1] At the time the bid process began, 53% of the HNZC tenants in Tauranga were either Māori or Māori/European.

Commentary from the community housing sector

The community housing sector had the opportunity to discuss the stock transfer process at the CHA- Impact conference in October 2015 and asked a number of questions:

1.How is tenant engagement to be achieved and how does the proposed model offer greater choice for tenants?

2.Is the Government model one based on ‘facilities management’, or an ‘investment for outcomes’ model?

3.Recognising that the community housing sector tends to collaborate and is resident-focused, how appropriate is a competitive, financially-focused stock transfer framework expected to deliver the desired outcomes?Is there an alternative that it could use instead?

New Zealand’s community housing sector has expressed concerns around the commercial procurement framework. The feeling is that it would lock in the problems of New Zealand’s current social housing system leaving little room for real innovative change for tenants at a local level. So far not one additional home has been added through this process and the cost of competing for the funding has been seen as expensive and meant less money spent on delivering homes.

Have we missed an opportunity?

The stock transfer process is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide a different set of solutions to how we provide homes for vulnerable tenants. In Tauranga this was an opportunity for community development and local self-determination for Tauranga Moana iwi. But iwi feel they have been on the back foot during the process despite attempts to take part and being registered community housing providers already providing papakāinga for tenants in their community.

What would it have looked like if Government had worked alongside iwi and local community housing providers to develop their capacity and capability for managing these tenancies? This would have put tenants and the development of the community first. What outcomes would we have seen for the nearly 50% of Māori tenants if this approach was used?

Comments from Hal Pawson on the stock transfer processes in the UK and Australia concluded that stock transfers were widely seen as an essential prospect for unsustainable public housing in these countries. But, he believes, it is not tenable to simply replicate transfer methods. He concluded that new process approaches would need to be used for stock transfers that focused on tenant consultation and choice.

Hal Pawson researched the Australian example of stock transfer and in terms of tenant and community empowerment found that the increasingly competitive approach to “successor landlord selection” was one where residents have typically had no role. “Except in the culturally specific AHV case, aspirations for transfers to empower tenants and communities have, until recently, remained as a lower order policy priority.” [2]

It seems New Zealand is following a similar example with tenants, local communities, and in particular local iwi, being a lower priority to commercial considerations.

HNZC tenants in Tauranga will soon have a new community housing provider landlord and all the advantages that brings. A landlord that is regulated, has charitable objectives and makes sure it reinvests profits back into its core business of providing homes that are better quality and fit for purpose. A large, financially stable provider with a track record in tenant management – and tenants will be better off because of that.

But what would it have looked like if the Government process had supported capacity building over a number of years like the AHV example? Would we have seen a flourishing community because tenant responsiveness and community development were firmly entrenched in the self-determination and kaupapa of local iwi as a basis for whānau development?

It’s not too late to do it differently going forward!

This article was written on 26 October 2016 by Angie Cairncross, Communications Coordinator for Community Housing Aotearoa, as an opinion piece following the recent National Māori Housing Conference in Tauranga Moana. Presentations from this event will be released shortly at http://www.maorihousingconference.nz/.

[1] NZ Government;EOI document Transfer of Tauranga Social Housing (Nov 2015;p.61)

[2] Hal Pawson (Australasian Housing Institute: Stock Transfer Seminar; 13 October 2014)

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