solar installation on roof

Calls for a solar powered stimulus

A successful program that has enabled almost 700 low income households to benefit from reduced power bills could be used as the basis of a solar-powered stimulus package that could benefit more vulnerable Victorians and the environment, create employment and support the economy.

The Community Housing Industry Association Victoria (CHIA Vic) and BOOMPower are partners on a project that has seen solar power and other energy efficiency products and solutions installed in social housing properties, including standalone properties and multi-unit apartment buildings.

With funding from the Victorian Government’s New Energy Jobs Fund, CHIA Vic and BOOMPower developed the BOOM! software platform. The platform makes it easy for organisations to produce a clear business case on the impact of installing energy efficiencies, as well as providing a seamless procurement process, and measuring and verifying performance and outcomes on an ongoing basis.

Additional funding from Solar Homes and the Victorian Property Fund saw seven community housing organisations use the platform to plan and implement $3.5 million worth of energy upgrades on social housing properties and counting.

CHIA Vic CEO Lesley Dredge says, ‘People on low incomes are the most vulnerable to high energy prices. It can have a real impact on their day-to-day lives, as they can avoid using heating and cooling even in extreme temperatures, which reduces their quality of life and their health and wellbeing.’

BOOMPower Director Alex Houlston says new funding for solar and energy efficiency from the Victorian Property Fund (VPF), along with the introduction of Solar Homes in 2018 and the availability of the BOOM! platform caused a surge in the level of engagement from the sector for a range of energy solutions.

‘This is evidence a stimulus package would be welcomed; in addition to construction projects, the community housing sector has $14 million in solar and energy efficiency upgrades that are ready to be undertaken in the next six to 18 months,’ Mr Houlston says.

Based on jobs figures provided by product suppliers and retailers for the initial projects, Ms Dredge says, ‘We can confidently say that a $14 million program would also directly support up to 356 jobs.’

CHIA Vic and BOOM! are hopeful Solar Homes will develop a separate funding stream for community housing, in recognition of the fact that, unlike private landlords or homeowners, they are unable to receive any of the financial benefits of their investment in energy efficiencies.

Get ready for the Rapid Housing EOI

 The Victorian Government will soon release its Expressions of Interest process for community housing organisations to apply for funding through its new $498 million housing package.

The government has announced funding is to repair, upgrade and build more than 23,000 of social housing units, with a further $50 million to be invested in aged care and disability accommodation across Victoria.

The funding is part of the government’s $1.3 billion Building Works package, aimed at creating thousands of jobs across the state to kickstart the economy post COVID-19.

It includes:                                     

  • $155 million for maintenance and upgrade works that can be delivered quickly – like painting and roofing – on more than 15,000 public housing properties
  • $110 million for new kitchens and bathrooms in 2,100 public housing properties
  • $50 million for community housing providers to undertake similar maintenance and upgrade work on social housing properties they manage or own.
  • $58 million to deliver brand new, shovel-ready social housing in Reservoir, Balaclava, Dandenong and Hampton Park.
  • $125 million for projects that increase housing options for women and children escaping family violence, Aboriginal Victorians, and those leaving State Government services.
  • plus, $50 million will fund maintenance and upgrades to public sector residential aged care facilities across metropolitan and regional Victoria, as well as more than 450 Specialist Disability Accommodation properties.

What you need to know:

  • The social housing projects are to start within the next six months.
  • At least 25 per cent of maintenance and upgrade funding will be earmarked for regional areas.

EOI

An Expression of Interest process will be designed to ensure projects respond to the needs of priority groups in the community and benefit communities across the metropolitan and regional areas of the state.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will release the Expressions of Interest process in the coming weeks. The process will be a rapid application and assessment process, with funding flowing to organisations to begin works as soon as possible.

 CHIA Vic

CHIA Vic has welcomed the funding and is working with the department to assist in successfully rolling out the package.

HCA work as a team to assist tenants and staff

Housing Choices Australia’s (HCA) staff may have been working from home since the end of March but the organisation is still working together to assist tenants during the pandemic.

HCA is utilising Microsoft Teams to continue its workflow and connectivity. Some teams are hosting ‘Virtual Friday Night Drinks’ via video conferencing, and the Melbourne office is having a ‘Zoom Trivia Night’ tonight with exciting prizes to be won.

Although ‘walk in’ appointments aren’t going ahead at the moment, residents can still meet with the Housing Team by scheduling an appointment and several staff are coming into the offices on a rotating roster.

Emails and letters have been sent to residents notifying them of changes to the organisation during this time. To keep connected with our residents, we are still publishing the ‘Home Stories’ resident newsletter for all of the states. The newsletters include useful COVID-19 links and resources, puzzles and brainteasers to keep things fun, as well as resident stories of how they are getting creative and managing social isolation.

Housing Officers have also been contacting all residents in their portfolio to touch base with them and to see how they are coping in these difficult times. We have increased engagement with our support partners and the NDIS, and linked residents with varied support agencies (new and old).

This week the ‘Darebin Food Share Program’ kicked off. HCA Victoria’s Community Development Team partnered with The Bridge (Preston Neighbourhood House) to enable us to distribute pre-cooked meals to our residents in Darebin.

The meals are being provided by FareShare, a community organisation that rescues surplus food and turns it into nutritious meals for people doing it tough. Their motto is ‘Rescue, Cook, Feed.’ On Monday 11 May, a group of HCA staff collected, packed and delivered over 200 nutritious, pre-cooked frozen meals to support our residents at over 60 different addresses.

We are also providing food vouchers, offering to cover medical bill costs and making payments of up to $200 for utility bills to help residents impacted by the pandemic.

The organisation has introduced COVID-19 Special Leave, which grants up to 10 days additional leave for staff who are dealing with the impacts of Coronavirus. Our Intranet page is updated with a ‘COVID-19’ panel where staff can find useful resources. There, information on COVID-19 Special Leave can be found, resources for working from home, a link to the Employee Assistance Program which offers free counselling, and a content bank of all the communications sent to staff and residents.

AGMs in the time of COVID-19

Coronavirus social distancing and shutdown requirements have made holding an AGM face-to-face  impossible for most community housing organisations and CHIA Vic has been fielding calls from some members seeking clarity on this issue.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has announced a temporary (six-month) reform to the Corporations Act that will allow companies to hold virtual annual general meetings.Not-for-profit Law has created a flow chart for organisations to determine if they are able to have an online AGM or need to postpone it until the restrictions are eased.

You can download the pdf here.

The ACNC has also recognised that many charities are likely to experience issues with submitting their 2019 Annual Information Statement (and, if required, their annual financial report) by their due date and provided an extension until August 31, 2020.

You can download the ANC’s webinar, ‘Charities, the ACNC and COVID-19,’ for details.

Haven; Home, Safe quick to pivot

Haven: Home, Safe was quick to pivot its service provision when Covid-19 struck.

All employees who can, are now working from home for the foreseeable future. Those involved in, or supporting, critical operations have continued to attend their normal workplace with processes in place to help protect them and Haven’s clients. That includes operating robust protocols for health and hand hygiene, increased cleaning procedures, workplace access restrictions, social distancing, and the introduction of tele-consults.

A Virtual Concierge and tele-consult service has been installed at its Preston, Bendigo and Mildura offices.

‘The Virtual Concierge staff member welcomes clients, directs them to interview rooms, answers queries, provides assistance and schedules appointment,’ says Haven’s Communications and Marketing Director Sue Masters.

Haven’s website has been revamped, as has its intranet, HomeBase, which has a wide resource of state and federal government resources in web links and PDFs. There is tailored content for staff, with items for distribution for clients and tenants.

Staff contacted more than 500 vulnerable clients to keep them informed about Haven’s service delivery during the pandemic, using a telephone template to ensure the calls covered all required subjects in a consistent and informative way. Staff had to assess what information clients needed to ensure they fully understood the seriousness of the actions they need to take.

Haven has also launched a housing sector webinar series, Life in Lockdown, with the third  held on Friday featuring Canadian Jim Steele, the CEO of Windsor Essex Community Housing Corporation.

Windsor Essex CHC is the fourth largest social housing provider in Ontario with 4708 homes housing about 12,000 seniors, parents, children, singles, and persons with special needs. Click here to view the webinar or go to Haven’s Facebook page.

Covid-19 provides opportunity to improve housing policies

Former CHIA Vic board member, Swinburne Professor Terry Burke has been reported as saying the COVID-19 crisis should be viewed as “an opportunity we haven’t really had” since World War II to review and improve the nation’s housing policies.

In an article on news.com.au, Prof Burke said despite predictions that the pandemic could lead to a fall in house prices as much as 30 per cent, the crisis was unlikely to foster a rise in home ownership.

History showed during the global financial crisis, austerity measures and reduced household incomes and investor lending led to sharp fall in home ownership in most western countries.

However, Prof Burke said the pandemic could be an opportunity for Australia to create a “national housing and urban strategy” to develop a “system which has more balance between rental and ownership” tenures.

This should include plans to increase social and public housing supply, make the private rental sector a more attractive long-term prospect for tenants and landlords, and address existing housing and housing-adjacent policies including taxation, migration and urban development.

Prof Burke’s latest AHURI research paper, Australian home ownership: past reflections, future directions is available for download.

 

SDA training

United keeping tenants connected during pandemic

United Housing Cooperative has a mixed cohort of tenants, including family violence victim survivors, elderly tenants, Horn of Africa refugees and people with mental health issues, which has led it to take a multi-pronged approach to maintaining a connection during the pandemic.

United CEO Peter Sibly says checking in on vulnerable tenants via regular calls to an emergency phone tree has been working well.

‘We have set up a Zoom social club session on Fridays. A tenant member kicks it off with talking about the news and they just knit or crochet and have a chat. It’s been going for a couple of hours and provides an opportunity to chat – the craft takes the pressure off if there’s silence.’

‘We have also set up a Facebook group that is for tenant’s only – staff aren’t allowed on it,’ he says.

‘The most recent thing that we have been doing is we got 50 food parcels that the Lifecycle Trust donated, and on Monday we delivered them to our older members with a nice card.’

With their general meeting slated for May 28, the cooperative is also offering Zoom training for members so they can participate in the online meeting.

‘Some don’t have IT, or IT skills, which is a problem. Most everyone has a phone, but some are really old. One of our members has been fixing up old laptops and we are looking at ways we could provide some to members who need them.’

Peter says members have been appreciative of the cooperative’s efforts at this time.

‘We are in the middle of doing a SurveyMonkey for our strategic plan but a lot of people have commented in the survey that they appreciate we go out of our way to do more than just provide housing.’

RTA temporarily amended

The Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) has been temporarily amended in response to the Covid-19 pandemic for a period of six months from 29 March 2020. The changes give effect in Victoria to the National Cabinet commitment to a temporary moratorium on many types of eviction.  They also freeze rent increases and make a number of other changes aimed at sustaining tenancies throughout the pandemic.

These changes include the discontinuation of Notices to Vacate, voiding of notices already sent, limitation of the grounds on which a tenancy can be terminated and creation of an alternative tenancy termination process which requires an application to VCAT to seek a termination order.

CHIA Vic has provided a summary of the changes to members and assisted member organisations in adapting to the changes.  Further information will soon be available as regulations are released and CHIA Vic will be providing a briefing to the sector and practice notes at that time.

Along with these temporary changes, permanent amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act which were due to come into force by 1 July 2020 have now been pushed back and are now due to come into force by 1 January 2021. This provides more time for organisations to prepare for the amendment. It will also allow CHIA Vic time to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to address potential issues that the amendments may cause for the community housing sector and to seek further amendments to address these issues.