2017 AHI NSW Awards for Professional Excellence in Housing

NSW’s AHI members gathered at Rydges Central Sydney in Surry Hills for the 2017 Professional Excellence in Housing Awards.

After enjoying drinks, canapés and networking openings, AHI president Andrew Davis welcomed both members and invited guests; keynote speaker and Federal Labor Senator Doug Cameron, City of Sydney councillor and architect Philip Thalis, and Sharon Gudu from Family and Community Services (FACS) NSW.

Inspirational Team Member was the first award to be announced from a field of six high-calibre nominees. In fact, the field was so close the judges found it impossible to split Joy Sneesby of Evolve Housing and Julie Davenport from Hume Community Housing.

The human spirit never ceases to amaze and inspire me

“To be honest, it is an award shared with the entire Evolve Housing Services team as they inspire me every day with their commitment,” Joy tells HousingWORKS. “The human spirit never ceases to amaze and inspire me.”

“The best part of the win – without a doubt – was the genuine enthusiastic words of support from my peers at the event,” she continues. “To be a co-winner with Julie was particularly rewarding, as I have worked closely with her on several projects and found her to be as passionate as myself about the sector and those around her.”

Like Joy, Julie was keen to pay tribute to her colleagues for the way they inspire her daily: “It was a privilege to receive the inspirational team member award, which would not have been possible without the support of my team, colleagues, customers and service partners.

“My role allows me to make a difference in people’s lives, provide housing and support services to those in need, and to assist customers in managing and remaining in their homes. This award makes me feel very proud of the work Hume and I have been doing,” Julie says.

Competition was no less fierce in the Leading Community Engagement Practice category with seven noteworthy nominations. In the end, the judges went with Wentworth Community Housing’s Heading Home – Ending Homelessness Here! Initiative as the deserving winner.

Described as an “audacious project to end chronic homelessness”, Wentworth’s now award-winning initiative links homelessness services with real estate agents, local government, community groups, businesses and business leaders in an all-out effort to end homelessness in local communities, generate solutions and change community views.

“Winning this award for Heading Home felt like a win not only for Wentworth but for all our partners,” says Wentworth Community Housing’s CEO, Stephen McIntyre. “It shows how important community collaboration has been in creating potential solutions to solve the issue of homelessness.”

“We know that, with the continued support of our local communities, we can end  homelessness, and one way we are doing this is the progress we are making towards practical housing solutions, including tiny homes.”

There were joint winners in the Leading Housing Development Project category: St George Community Housing’s (SGCH) Lawrence Street Development in Peakhurst and BlueCHP Ltd’s Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) development in Campbelltown (The Gardens Macarthur).

SGCH completed their highest environmentally rated affordable housing development in Lawrence Street, Peakhurst, which is built to an average 8-star rating

Earlier this year, SGCH completed their highest environmentally rated affordable housing development in Lawrence Street, Peakhurst, which is built to an average 8-star rating under the Nationwide Energy Rating Scheme, expected to save every tenant about $500 a year on their apartment energy bills.

“We’re delighted to receive the award,” SGCH’s CEO, Scott Langford says. “We see Lawrence Street as setting a benchmark focusing on the impact for tenants of living in a sustainable building. We hope it encourages others to develop to similar standards.”

BlueCHP Limited’s CEO, Charles Northcote admits, “BlueCHP is delighted to share in the AHI Award for Leading Housing Development.”

With their builder, Strongbuild, BlueCHP constructed 101 apartments using cross laminated timber, making it the largest timber building in Australasia. The development provides 56 affordable apartments, with the balance being sold into the private market.

BlueCHP constructed 101 apartments using cross laminated timber, making it the largest timber building in Australasia

As one of the largest projects delivered by the sector, BCL and construction leaders, such as Lend Lease, believe the technology used at The Gardens Macarthur is the way of the future; a significant innovation in the use of building materials in the Australian market, with positives for not just the affordable housing sector but the entire building industry.

A Highly Commended recognition for the Leading Housing Development Project category was given to Bridge Housing’s Ashfield New Generation Boarding House. A home for nine older, single women in Ashfield, this is an outstanding example of a community housing provider tackling a specific homelessness issue, and delivering a solution through every aspect of planning, funding, design and support partner engagement.

“We were absolutely delighted to secure this commendation for New Generation,” says Bridge Housing’s CEO, John Nicolades. “Older women private renters are very disadvantaged in Sydney’s housing market with increasing rents relative to income, and they’re subject to insecure tenure. Bridge Housing developed this property in Ashfield, which is close to public transport and a thriving town centre and the nine women have developed a close, supportive community.”

A massive 10 nominations were received for the Leading Innovation award, with the judges’ vote eventually going to Bridge Housing’s Hand Up program.

An arrears management program, Hand Up builds on traditional social housing debt management approaches. Tenants who have complex needs, stubborn debt and are at-risk of eviction are able to save their tenancies and get their lives back on track through financial counselling, living skills, health treatment programs, training and voluntary work. For each hour of activity, Bridge Housing reduces the tenant’s arrears by a set amount and, by tailoring activities to need, tenants can clear all arrears while addressing the underlying causes of their debt cycle.

Tenants can clear all arrears while addressing the underlying causes of their debt cycle

“This was a fabulous achievement for Bridge Housing and a reflection of the innovative thinking of our staff to deal with one of the most difficult issues in housing management – sustaining tenancies of households with substantial arrears,” says John Nicolades.

Thirteen tenants have entered the program since June 2016, addressing over $20,000 in arrears. All tenants were facing eviction and all have saved their tenancies to date.

One of the most anticipated prizes at every AHI Professional Excellence in Housing Awards evening remains the Tenant Led Initiative category. For the 2017 awards, judges had five nominees to consider and, in the end, gave Stucco Solar+Storage top honours.

With an Australian-first installation of 114 solar panels and 36 batteries at the Stucco Student Housing Cooperative, university students Bjorn Sturmberg, Louis Van Rensburg and Sarah King demonstrated the important benefits and energy cost-savings for low-income residents, tenants and body corporate groups, as well as ways to overcome barriers that prevent the uptake of renewable energy in the residential apartment sector.

“It felt amazing and gratifying to have our hours of voluntary work recognised by the broader housing sector,” admits group spokesperson Sarah King. “I hope that our work will remind social housing tenants of their own strength, ideas and capacity to make a difference when given the right opportunity.”

As testament to the quality of nominees, the judges also felt that The Collectives – Utilising Lived Experience Insight at Hume Community Housing was also worthy of recognition, and extended a Highly Commended award for Tenant Led Initiative to the tenants behind this enterprise.

“It was great to see The Collectives receive recognition for their work and commitment in raising awareness of hoarding and squalor,” says Julie Bojarski, COO at Hume Community Housing. “The group has been visionary in their development of support and awareness, and is a true demonstration of a people-led group authentically seeking to make a difference in peoples lives.”

In addition to the community development programs for which it has become known in recent years, Compass Housing has emerged as an influencer of housing policy; first through the creation of a major discussion paper analysing the issues facing Australia’s housing system, and then as a participant in the United Nations Habitat III Conference, at which the Australian Government committed to a new set of global housing and urban development standards.

Our sector is at the frontline of Australia’s housing crisis so it’s important our voices are heard

Across the organisation, overall tenant satisfaction was a remarkable 92 percent – an increase on the previous year – making Compass a worthy winner of the Excellence in Social Housing acknowledgement.

“The award is a nice recognition of the work our amazing staff do across a whole range of area,” says Greg Budworth, Group Managing Director of Compass Housing. “In terms of influencing policy, it would be great if this award encouraged more community housing providers to get involved in the campaign to keep social and affordable housing on the national
agenda. Our sector is at the frontline of Australia’s housing crisis so it’s important our voices are heard.”

The Outstanding Achievement gong was given to AHI stalwart and the Group Managing Director of Compass Housing, Greg Budworth. When Greg joined Compass in 2004, the organisation was facing possible de-registration, and was in a race against the clock to become a compliant and a financially viable organisation. Over the following decade, Greg helped steer the company from the brink of collapse to its current position as one of the most successful community housing providers in the country.

“It’s nice to receive awards like this,” says Greg. “But the credit really belongs to the frontline staff who do such a great job helping our organisation deliver on its vision.”

“The most inspiring thing is seeing the tremendous difference having safe and secure housing can make in a person’s life. Access to adequate housing is a basic human right but it’s something a lot of people struggle to obtain. Seeing people turn their lives around after being housed is incredibly inspiring.”

The Leading Asset Management category saw Compass Housing take home another win, while the Aboriginal Housing Office’s Two Fold Aboriginal Corporation project received Highly Commended recognition.

Between 2014 to 2017, Compass Housing has seen the number of dwellings they have under management grow from 3,500 to 4,500, and have recently been awarded with contracts to develop and manage 78 group homes for 390 highly disabled people, as well as a Social and Affordable Housing Fund contract to provide 600 new units.

Compass’ tenants still reported an 89 percent satisfaction rating for maintenance service across the period of growth – an improvement of 11 percent from the previous year – while 92 percent of Compass tenants were satisfied with the overall condition of their dwellings.

“Compass did well on the awards night, and I was really pleased for our assets team to receive the recognition,” says Donald Proctor from Compass Housing. “Our submission was based on improving tenant satisfaction while increasing efficiency. It sounds dull but it happens by tenancy, assets staff and contractors managing each job, every day, to deliver for our tenants, backed up – of course – by a really strong asset management framework.”

Something of an experienced campaigner when it comes to the AHI’s Australasian Awards, Donald takes a measured approached when asked about Compass’ chances later this year: “I attended the awards night last time so I know the competition is fierce. I’m just going to enjoy the night and cheer on my colleagues to win. We’ll just wait and see.”

The Aboriginal Housing Office’s most recent initiative with TwoFold Aboriginal Corporation on the South Coast of NSW has been a major achievement for both companies involved, resulting in the successful maintenance completion of nine homes in the local Aboriginal community. The project not only demonstrated new and innovative approaches in the way the AHO works with Aboriginal Housing providers but was also a means of empowerment for the local Aboriginal community.

“It was a real thrill for the Aboriginal Housing Office to be recognised at the AHI Awards with a Highly Commended mention, along with our partners TwoFold Aboriginal Corporation,” says Shane Hamilton, Chief Executive of the Aboriginal Housing Office. “Everyone involved in this project was deeply committed to generating excellent outcomes – not just for our tenants but also through economic and employment opportunity for local Aboriginal people.”

With such a strong field of nominees at the local level, the NSW Members of the AHI will all be looking to a strong showing at the Australasian Awards later in 2017. We wish them the best of luck.

Click here for more information about AHI’s Professional Excellence in Housing Awards.