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28th May 2019

How social housing providers can work with government to achieve success

This article first appeared in The Mandarin. It is the second in a three-part series on social housing in Australia.  Read part one, Australia’s social housing crisis: a stocktake.

While the issue of social housing has long been a challenging hurdle for both governments and private providers alike, growing political turmoil both at home and abroad has raised the need for new solutions.

With political challenges affecting several countries worldwide including mounting refugee crises, the possibility of a tumultuous exit on Britain’s behalf from the European Union, and the possibilities of economic downturns, social housing still has a stigma to lose before it can help be improved.

Private organisations are well equipped to face down these challenges, but new problems require new approaches.

Change at home and abroad

With political turmoil rearing its head globally, several countries have been weighing how to deal with various social housing policies.

In the UK, social housing associations have been affected by the introduction of policies such as universal credit, 1% rent reduction, and the extension of “right to buy” policies. Without a guaranteed income stream, social landlords have faced grim prospects.

In particular, Civica’s Changing Landscape research shows 42% of UK social housing providers want the government to revisit welfare cut decisions.

Jeff Hewitt, Civica’s Executive Director of Housing and Asset Management, says UK government policies and “the uncertainty of Brexit” have caused challenges.

The Canadian state of Ontario recently announced a raft of social housing measures, including a crackdown on housing criminals. But social housing providers have also complained it is unclear how much of the funds are federal dollars, impacting where they can be spent.

In Australia, Neale Walsh, Civica’s Director of Customer Engagement and Social Housing, says the local social housing sector is being impacted by the increase of income inequality.

“Much of this is in its infancy,” he says. “We’re seeing huge cost of living pressures and not seeing the same in wage growth, and causing many of the affordability issues we see currently.”

“Australia has the chance to be a thought leader. I talk about the community housing providers, and in reality delivering these outcomes is going to be heavily reliant on them providing more and taking more of that leadership role.”

The future lies in state coordination

Any attempt to navigate higher costs of living, or geopolitical turmoil, must be completed through state coordination, says Walsh. But working together may require an acknowledgement about what social providers can do compared to what the private sector can accomplish.

Additionally, he says, the inability for state governments to accomplish certain reforms on their own suggest there is a need for states to lobby the Federal Government for changes at a systemic, country-wide level.

I think the private sector is better equipped to deal with the state frameworks,” says Walsh. “You obviously have a national register of social housing that is a national framework, although it doesn’t cover Western Australia or Victoria, but there is an agreed approach as to how they operate.

“There just has to be a strategy and approach regulated at a national level,” he says.

Walsh points to situations where there is a mismatch between where state-based housing providers operate and tenants’ ability to access essential federal services.

“There’s got to be a strategy and approach regulated at a national level,” he says. “Those dependent on social housing might have a dependence on certain services that you can’t get in remote areas. They need to have those needs addressed.”

Walsh points to the UK and Canada, where social housing has strong local ties. One-third of UK housing providers have said they intend to work with the private sector, and 29% say they plan to work with central government organisations to combat challenges in local government policies there (such as the 1% rent reduction change).

“There just needs to be that central strategy in place,” says Walsh.

Changing the stigma

Much of the coordination between state and federal agencies should also be focused on changing the stigma regarding social housing.

For instance, in the UK some communities that have seen an influx of refugees and cultural diversity have experienced conflict. A report conducted by the Local Government Improvement and Development Agency found the Brexit vote caused “two thirds of social housing users voting to leave the EU”.

Part of the solution to this problem is changing the stigma in social housing, says Walsh.

“These are regular people in the community just like you and I. They have a right to exist in the community and not be treated any differently,” he says. “I think social housing has always had its problems, I think now more than ever it’s about changing the stigma around social housing.”

This approach has been adopted by social providers, he says, and it’s where he says providers can coordinate to put more pressure on funding mechanisms.

“Obviously in situations where governments try transition services out to the private sector, there are organisations that will try to take advantage of that and profit or profiteer from those circumstances. But I think with the current not for profit providers, they are focused on providing a more holistic service and better outcomes for their tenants and are reinvesting any money back into creating a more inclusive social housing community.”

Civica is a leading provider of cloud based tenant centric housing management software solutions to the public sector and social housing providers globally. Early adopters of the Civica Cx solution in Australia include BaptistCare NSW/ACT and Anglicare.