Housing Matters: capacity building and housing & homelessness sector news.
Edition 13 - November 2015
From the Executive Director
I am delighted to introduce the November issue of Housing Matters. I have had an intensive initiation to my role, which was considerably enhanced by attending the 2015 Australian Housing Conference hosted by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) and the Western Australian Government. The conference was occupied with presentations from both national and international speakers and there were many topics covered over the three days.
Affordable housing and the increasing numbers of homeless were consistent topics. Unfailingly the overwhelming theme was that Australia is on the cusp of a housing crisis the likes of which we have not experienced previously. The solutions are complex but what is evident now more than ever is that housing affordability - both rental and home ownership - in some places in Australia is not achievable. Diverse housing options, coupled with services designed to sustain people across many life domains, all contribute to the economy and to the capacity for communities to be inclusive, vibrant places. Young people in particular are being disadvantaged and home ownership for many young Australians will be an unobtainable dream.
Several issues highlighted by Professor Gavin Wood from RMIT were of particular interest. Housing prices and rents are increasing at a faster pace than incomes. For many Australians (especially younger generations) these trends are lowering standards of living. Counting every year between 2001-2010 it is estimated roughly 1.7 million Australians left home ownership. More than one-third did not return by 2010 (34%), and instead journeyed onto housing assistance programmes. In effect a third of people were worse off once leaving home ownership and ended needing support or housing assistance in one form or another.
Because housing matters
Because housing matters is Q Shelter’s tag line and one which we want to embody, and for the community to embrace. All forms of housing matters - whether it is community, public, social, affordable, transitional or crisis. It is the shelter and the security it provides that matters to people. Once housed securely and affordably, life can change for many. We at Q Shelter have a strong belief that housing and homeless services must work in concert if they are to be affective to the people they serve and organisations utilising a housing first approach are best placed to do this. The basic underlying principle of housing first is that people are better able to move forward with their lives if they are first housed. This is as true for people experiencing homelessness and those with mental health and addictions issues as it is for anyone. Housing is provided first and then supports are provided including physical and mental health, education, employment, and substance abuse and community connections.
Community housing and homelessness services that are sustainable and effective make life-changing differences at both the individual and community level. The capacity for responsiveness, innovation and localism all contribute in very fine-grain ways to a much broader social sustainability which prevents deeper needs from emerging which are costly to mitigate and sometimes impossible to cure.
I saw many examples of integration and services working together at the annual QCOSS conference in October. Of great interest we heard from Jessica Venegas from Community Solutions which engages residents, local non-profits, businesses and government agencies to help once-thriving communities stage a comeback. They’re coordinating a roster of partners to help residents improve local health, safety and economic prosperity; and they are working through Zero: 2016 to bring about a national change effort designed to help a committed group of US communities end chronic and veteran homelessness outright by December 2016. Jessica demonstrated how social change can occur when agencies work with the whole of the community to coordinate change. It was an inspiration to hear their story and validated the need for comprehensive consultation and collaboration when seeking to make any social changes.
Indigenous Advisory Group (capacity building)
Many of you will be aware Q Shelter is currently contracted by the Department of Housing and Public Works to provide intensive support to Indigenous community housing providers that are seeking registration under the National Regulatory System for Community Housing (NRSCH). Q Shelter has been granted an extension to conduct this vital work and will continue through to July 2016. To this end we will be forming the Indigenous Advisory Group to inform the work we do and to ensure Q Shelter takes the advice from Indigenous experts and experts in Indigenous housing provision when working beside Indigenous organisations and communities. It is essential Q Shelter works in culturally respectful manner and documents our learnings along the way to assist in our own organisations’ cultural awareness.
Last week Q Shelter, along with CHPs for Qld and LGAQ, hosted a forum to exchange learnings on the planning and policy reforms required to address housing affordability in our communities. Senior figures from the ACT government, community housing and development sectors shared their experiences in delivering an Affordable Housing Action Plan in the ACT; the vision for the major new housing development of West Belconnen on the NSW/ACT border. We also heard a presentation from Economic Development Queensland about the many successes of the Queensland Government’s approach to designing for housing diversity as one approach to meeting the challenge of housing affordability. Speakers were joined by Damien Walker, Deputy Director General of the Queensland Department of Housing, for a panel discussion with questions from a mixed audience including planners, financiers, community housing organisations and government stakeholders.
Stephanie Wyeth, Director of Urbis, who were generous sponsors of the event, summed up the afternoon with the observation that there seemed to be the opportunity to affect positive change in housing affordability as governments across Australia were pushing in the same direction and were open to working with community sector and the private sector to deliver systematic as well as local initiatives.
Q Shelter was very pleased to join with Powerhousing Australia to host a seminar with Saul Eslake, the renowned economist and advocate of housing affordability, last month. Saul addressed the topic: ‘What could be a bi-partisan agenda for improving housing affordability?
He made the following points in his presentation:
Owner-occupier housing costs have actually fallen in recent years – thanks to lower interest rates – but for renters, housing costs have gone in the other direction.
The proportion of low income renting households spending more than 30% of their income on housing is higher in Queensland than in any other State.
Home ownership rates are lower, and have fallen faster, in Queensland than in any other State.
Until the 2000s, the housing stock grew at a faster rate than the population: since then, population growth has outstripped housing supply.
Supply-demand mismatches have been particularly acute in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.
Having analysed the issues, Saul presented his proposed elements of what could/should be a bipartisan agenda for improving housing affordability:
Abandon policies which serve only to inflate demand, including cash grants to and stamp duty exemptions for first time buyers, and preferential tax treatment for investors.
Redirect funds thereby saved (or revenue raised) towards programs that increase the supply of housing.
Reform State tax systems to encourage more efficient use of land by replacing stamp duty on land transfers with a broad-based land tax (including on owner-occupied properties), with transitional provisions to avoid ‘double taxation’ of recently-acquired land.
Include the value of owner-occupied housing above location-specific thresholds in the assets test for the age pension.
Provide greater support for the expansion of the community housing sector.
Restructure land tax provisions for large-scale investors in rental housing.
Revisit current models for financing the provision of suburban infrastructure and services in ‘greenfield’ housing estates – with less ‘upfront’ charging and greater recovery through municipal rates.
Reduce the cost, complexity and uncertainty associated with ‘infill’ developments in established areas by providing greater uniformity and clarity in planning rules, and fewer opportunities for frivolous or vexatious objections.
Take a more ‘holistic’ view of urban infrastructure investment – especially in transport – and consider the use of ‘betterment levies’ as one way of partially funding such investments.
To support RMIT’S research and to improve on the data available Q Shelter invested in the first prototype of Australia’s first ever Rental Affordability Index, which reveals the depth and extremity of housing stress faced by renters in the current market. Both low income and moderate income households suffer poverty due to high rental costs. The Rental Affordability Index has been created by National Shelter, Community Sector Banking and SGS Economics and Planning. It will be released on a quarterly basis.
Low income households are in a dire situation.
Single income households are the worst off.
Even for average working households in many cities rents are unaffordable.
Households would struggle if rents become less affordable.
Unaffordable rents are dividing communities and families.
This is locking low and moderate income households out of inner cities.
The trend over five years has seen no improvement, some deterioration,
Housing stress occurs when households pay 30% of income or more on rent. Low income households are required to pay around 65% of income on rent to access a tenancy. This means that rents are extremely unaffordable.
Low income households – according to the report – are in a dire situation, single income households are the worst off and rent costs are now locking low and moderate income households out of inner cities. You can view the Index on the National Shelter website www.shelter.org.au
To mark the release of the Rental Affordability Index, Q Shelter has spoken with Dave about the transformative impact of affordable housing, in this case provided by BHC in partnership with Blue Care, has had on his life.
The newly released Rental Affordability Index recognises that there is a gap in understanding rental affordability in Australia. There is a gap between public housing and the private housing market that people like Dave fall into. Dave has bipolar and suffers from PTSD after service in the Australian Navy.
“I was living out at Logan in a private rental. It was very difficult being a pensioner. I’m one of the people that just missed out on qualifying to get into public housing, but don’t earn enough to sustain living in mainstream housing.”
He said that people can sometimes share accommodation to cut rent costs, but with his bipolar and PTSD it was near impossible to manage close contact situations with other tenants. Dave was forced to look for private accommodation in areas far away from the health care facilities he needed to maintain his recovery.
“Where I was living before I never left home. I had a social phobia. I would be home 90% of the time.”
This isolation led Dave to develop major physical health issues on top of his existing mental illnesses. Dave discovered BHC and their affordable housing complexes and has since moved to an inner-city suburb.
“Because of this affordable housing scheme, I now live in an area where I feel comfortable to walk around outside. I don’t have to worry if I’m having a bad day. This new accommodation has had a major positive impact on my health. I have a history of suicidal ideations when things get tough.”
Dave said that his new lifestyle was much more relaxed and his mental health began improving almost immediately after moving into his new apartment. Dave stressed that the relationship between mental illness and homelessness can’t be ignored. Affordable accommodation helps catch people that do not fit in either a low or high earning bracket. A pension or disability support may be enough to pay rent in a private market, but is not enough to sustain someone facing a multitude of problems which can impact on their capacity to put money toward rent.
“If you’re living on the street with very little support from mental health or accommodation services, you really only have three options - drugs and alcohol, crime or death. You have to self-medicate because you can’t afford your regular medications. Or you commit crimes to pay for the medications. Or you’re dead.”
Having experienced homelessness himself, Dave speaks from experience. He shares a similar story with many people who have found themselves without stable accommodation. Appropriate and affordable housing is arguably the first step many need to take to get back on track.
Great news! House Keys: Operations is ready to open the door to new data driven improvement for individual housing providers, and for the community housing industry as a whole.
Q Shelter along with providers, the Registrars of Community Housing and NSW FACS, have assisted the Federation to validate data, iron out any issues and set up th
e industry’s benchmarking system.
What is House Keys: Operations?
It's an online tool for generating the data the industry wants about its own performance. That includes information about
Housing and tenancy services
Efficiency; and most importantly
House Keys: Operations will set industry standards and help you see how you’re performing compared to peers in the sector. Importantly, it will also give governments and developers confidence to invest in community housing.
Howcan I get started with House Keys: Operations?
To get started watch our House Keys video to find out how to get the most out of it and read our House Keys user manual. The Federation will email log in details directly to registered subscribers to make sure information is kept confidential. If you need additional log ins please contact Vincent Keogh at Vincent@benchmarking.com.au and provide the names and email addresses of the staff who you want to have access.
A new validation window
Data used in House Keys: Operations is based on data submitted by participating CHPs to the Registrar of Community Housing, and to FACS in NSW. The Federation has developed consent forms and providers have requested that Registrars provide the selected data directly into House Keys.
We have already conducted several additional data validation rounds, but as this is the first release of the industry’s own benchmarking platform, we are giving all participants the opportunity to conduct a final check of their own data in a new 7 day validation window. This is the final piece of data integrity checking. Subscribers have been asked to give their feedback promptly so that we can ensure a quick turnaround of any revisions needed.
House Keys: Operations is going to grow. Now that House Keys: Operations is up and running we will work with industry to add more key data every year. We’ll also be getting feedback from users to help us develop House Keys: Operations and improve it as we go along. We would like to start work with CHPs to grow House Keys: Operations right away and to plan for next year’s release.
If you would like to join an expanded user group to help the system grow, please email email@example.com to join and be part of the system’s development.
Not yet registered for House Keys?
House Keys will become a regular part of the industry’s continuous improvement – we are already planning the next release for May 2016 using data from the 2014-15 financial year. If you haven’t signed up already and would like further information please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org
House Keys: Workforce - coming very soon
We’re also in the final stages of setting up House Keys: Workforce. So far the early data is providing a fascinating insight into our workforce and we are working with industry HR experts to finalise House Keys: Workforce. We’ll let you know when it’s up and running. Watch this space.
The NSW Federation of Housing Associations express thanks to key partners, the Registrars of Community Housing, the NRSCH team, FACS NSW, Q Shelter, Benchmarking.com.au and most importantly our 39 CHP launch partners.
Cairns is holding an event tomorrow, 27 November, called “In Her Shoes” to highlight the issue of domestic violence. It features a relay race where men’s teams have to wear women’s shoes to run.
In Mackay the network is putting a lot of thought into the issue of how people cope at Christmas. There will be a “Christmas for Everyone” Christmas day luncheon and drop in at Salvation Army, Gregory Street from 12 to 4 pm. The Mackay Women’s Centre is presenting a workshop early in December on the topic of loss at Christmas; common grief reactions, how to talk to kids, how to make Christmas easier and less painful and common mistakes in supporting others and how to be more resilient at Christmas.
In Rockhampton the housing and homelessness sector are holding an inaugural network meeting for Rockhampton and surrounding areas services. The meeting will be held on Wednesday 2 December at the Bidgerdii, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service Conference Room.
We were pleased to welcome 19 participants from around the State at the recent webinar on the next steps for Queensland. Many others have asked for a link to the recording. We are pleased to share the link to the recorded webinar, the slides and the preparation tool created by Q Shelter along with other resources at http://www.qshelter.asn.au/services/nrsch/compliance/
Thank you to Damian Sammon and Cedric Mcintyre from the Office of the Registrar who joined Clare from Q Shelter as presenters.
Highlights from the discussion included an outline of what is involved in standard compliance, the Q Shelter preparation tool for providers was launched and questions from participants were answered including a focus on site visits and timings.
There now are 34 community housing providers registered under the NRSCH in Queensland. Congratulations to new providers registered since September:
INCH Housing Inc.
Roseberry Community Services Ltd.
Kabi Kabi Aboriginal Corporation
Y-Care (South East Queensland) Inc
Youth Housing Project Association Inc