Big Australian Housing Build Conference 2021: it’s a wrap!

Any notion that an online conference might lack the colour, personalities and energy of an in-person event was quickly dismissed the moment delegates from right across the Australia came together on Day One of the Big Australian Housing Build Conference 2021, to hear an array of guest speakers from Australia and around the world share their insights and challenge conventional thinking.

On Day One, many delegates were still buzzing from CHIA Vic’s Networking event that was held the night before at ZINC in Federation Square. The exclusive networking event had been a chance to listen to guest speaker, the Victorian Treasurer, the Hon Tim Pallas MP, meet and connect with new faces, as well as catch up with those they hadn’t seen for a year due to COVID-19.

Day One kicked off, with possibly more than one delegate being still in their pyjamas (hey, it’s a benefit of attending a conference online!) and others at their office, with the Minister for Housing, the Hon Richard Wynne MP giving an insight into the Big Housing Build, and Senator Jacqui Lambie speaking passionately about advocating for housing rights and dignity of tenants.

Then it was straight into a packed program, with guest speakers discussing issues around mental health and accessible design; the ethos behind them and the practical challenges and opportunities.

Conference participants asked presenters questions and chatted amongst themselves, but one theme stood out as front of mind: how can we balance the tenant / housing provider power imbalance, creating better outcomes for everyone?

Lydia Dlaboha, deputy CEO of Housing Quality Network in the UK was one of several international guests who spoke about the experience in her country, and Alistair McIntosh, CEO of HQN proved that online is no barrier for the passionate speaker and even referenced the book we’re all reading, Poverty Safari, by social activist and rapper Loki, in which he talks about how his success can be directly linked to secure, affordable housing.

For many, the highlight of the day was Uncle Jack Charles, actor, musician, survivor of the Stolen Generation, and former heroin addict and burglar, telling his story and sending the unwavering message: secure housing is the foundation on which all our lives and achievements sit.

On Day Two, our focus shifted to another big issue facing the housing sector: climate change. Matthew Bailes, CEO of Paradigm Housing UK discussed the push for social housing to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and home-grown speaker Jen Kulas from Nightingale Housing shared the extensive steps that her organisation is taking to slash their carbon footprint, including doing business with other ‘green’ contractors and suppliers, while issuing the challenge for other organisations to follow suit.

For many conference attendees it was a big shift in thinking from how they have viewed climate change, largely in terms of energy poverty, to the issue of climate risk, and the fact that in the future, some homes in bushfire or flood prone areas may actually become uninsurable.

Then it was down to nuts and bolts, with speakers and presentations on issues such as the importance of traineeships, management transfers, and how to up your collection rates and slash eviction rates.

International speakers included Jeff Morrison, CEO of Canada Housing and Renewal Association discussing what Australia can learn from Canada’s social housing system, and Scott Figenshow, CEO of Community Housing Aotearoa in NZ, who spoke about housing as a human right.

The day ended with a robust discussion about the role and expectations of community housing organisations in a post-pandemic Australia, and delegates said good-bye, heads spinning from all the information and ideas they had digested, and a renewed enthusiasm for their work and the sector.

If you attended the Big Australian Housing Build Conference 2021, you’ll have access to the presentations until 28 May. For those of you who missed out, we’ll be sharing presentations and learnings from the conference on our website over the next month – keep checking back for the latest.

We’d like to give a big shout-out to our conference partners, Homes Victoria and Moores Legal, as well as all our individual session sponsors: without you, this amazing conference could never have been made possible.