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17th June 2019

How can technology help the homeless?

This article first appeared in The Mandarin. It is the final in a three-part series on social housing in Australia.  Read part one, Australia’s social housing crisis: a stocktake, and part twoHow social housing providers can work with government to achieve success.

Creating better outcomes for social housing tenants is dependent on using technology in smarter, more targeted ways.

But while social housing providers have always used technology as part of their overall service, the sector is now recognising the benefits of using a growing number of smart technologies and interconnected systems.

At the same time, the use of technology to deliver everyday services is helping to erase the traditional stigma around social housing – leading to better outcomes overall, says Neale Walsh, Civica’s Director of Customer Engagement, Social Housing.

“There is a huge amount that technology can provide in creating a more inclusive environment, ensuring social housing tenants have access to the same services expected by mainstream society,” says Walsh.

“Technology has a big part to play in delivering efficiencies across the industry, eliminating manual processes and duplication of effort, being able to perform on-site inspections on a mobile device, not paper based forms, and having information seamlessly updated in systems real-time.”

Technology also has benefits for the tenant providing them the ability to self-serve and interact with their providers through the use of online portals. Not only is this more convenient for the tenant, it also provides a massive efficiency gain back to the provider.

Creating understanding before using technology

Laying the groundwork for technology to improve social housing conditions should start by recognising social housing tenants are the same as any other tenant.

As Walsh points out, there is often an assumption that social housing tenants lack access to technology, putting them at a disadvantage.

“Social housing does not operate any differently to any other residential tenancy,” he says.

Social housing tenants still need to pay rent, maintain properties and are held accountable under the same Residential Tenancies Acts, so they need to have their affairs in order. Technology provides the means for them to achieve this and stay connected to their provider ensuring they meet their obligations.

Walsh says the social housing community can often assume tenants don’t have access to technology, yet points out most people today have a smartphone. Fusing technology with social housing often relies on acknowledging that tenants have access to these devices in the first place.

“There is a huge role tech can provide in creating that inclusive environment and making sure housing tenants are treated no differently from anyone else,” he says.

On the provider side, Walsh says, “Technology plays a major role, with infield mobility and self service capabilities enabling providers to deliver the service more efficiently. This leads to a higher quality of service with savings being invested back into providing more properties to meet the growing demand.”

“Connected communities also enable providers to streamline manual processes and ensure that they meet their obligations to the tenant, of having a safe, secure and well maintained property to call home.”

Such a system could use connected devices and tracking systems to input data to a central point, Walsh says.

Using technology to see the bigger picture

Technology also plays a part in creating environments in which housing providers see the bigger picture, Walsh says.

A system like Civica’s Housing Cx, used by clients like BaptistCare in New South Wales and the ACT, allows social housing providers to collect and share information much faster, increasing productivity and streamlining administration. But Walsh points out that benefits extend beyond up-to-date data and dashboards.

By creating an environment in which providers can see a tenant’s full history at a glance, they are able to navigate problematic situations and bypass issues that would otherwise escalate.

“We want a complete view of the customer or individual, and need to be able to get an understanding of their challenges,” Walsh says, which he argues can be achieved through holistic data-based systems.

“You may have a tenant that is behind on their payments, or acting in an anti-social way, however by having that bigger picture and understanding what other challenges they may be dealing with, providers are able to work with them and provide them that extra level of support….it’s all about keeping them in the tenancy. Providers don’t want them to have to leave.”

Using information to create plans to keep tenants in their homes is a huge benefit of these types of systems, Walsh says. They act as a trigger for social housing providers to help their tenants become embedded in the community.

“Technology has the ability to bring people together, keep them informed, and create a sense of inclusion. Through using technology housing providers can improve the way they engage and communicate with their tenants, which leads to delivering a better outcome for the community as a whole.”