Name: Greg Foster
Title: National Director, Salvation Army Social Housing
Joined AHI: 2017
Residence: Wellington, New Zealand
Years in housing: 14
Current project or activity:
“The Salvation Army provides hundreds of homes throughout New Zealand for emergency and long-term social housing. Our social housing portfolio is relatively small, consisting of 313 mostly one or two-bedroom units that we own, and we lease additional houses from local councils as well. Managing the portfolio and our tenants is a big part of our day-to-day work.”
“Our other focus is growing our portfolio. Right now, we have plans for increasing our portfolio by about 50 percent in Auckland, with plans for adding approximately 120 new units there over the next 12 months. We’re also exploring adding more units in other parts of New Zealand as well.”
“It’s quite an exciting time to be involved in housing in New Zealand. The government sees [housing] as a huge challenge, and they are engaging with the community housing sector to be part of the solution. I think there are lots of opportunity for those in the housing sector.”
What made you choose a housing career?
“I’ve been in international development for the last 20-odd years and I have worked in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. When you’re focusing on poverty alleviation, you can’t help but see the substandard housing conditions that many people live in. It becomes pretty clear that poor housing leads to poor education, poor health… it’s a driver of poverty. Early on in my development work, an opportunity came up to work for a housing NGO – Habitat for Humanity – so I started getting involved in housing directly at that point.”
“People suffer poor housing conditions whether they’re in Africa, Germany, New Zealand or Australia. Poor housing affects a family’s health, education and so many other things. I’m committed to housing as a profession because it makes a difference. It’s a building block for families and society, and I think it’s a way of addressing poverty and inequality.”
What are you particularly proud of having accomplished?
“We’re in the process of building a lot of new units in Auckland at this time. Being involved with a team and organisation that is committed to trying to address the housing needs in Auckland has been exciting. It feels good to be part of an organisation that wants to make a difference.”
What makes you motivated or inspired in your career?
“There’s a housing crisis in New Zealand, and I’m sure it’s the same in Australia. Every time you provide a house for someone, you make a positive difference in an individual or families life.”
“One of our current tenants is a recovering alcoholic who had just finished his addiction course, and he was facing the prospect of returning home to the same group of friends he used to hang out with. He knew this would probably pull him back into the same old drinking scene and patterns. Fortunately, we were able to offer him a home in one of our villages. He’s been in that home for well over a year now, he’s stayed drink free throughout that time, and it’s solely because we were able to provide him with an alternative home where he could create a new support community and a new bunch of friends. I think, every time you can do something like that, it makes getting out of bed in the morning worthwhile.”
What attributes make a great housing or advocacy worker?
“Well, I feel a good community housing provider needs different skill-sets on its staffing team. Whether you are involved in financial modelling, management, procurement or working day to day with tenants, you need to be committed to making a difference as an individual.”
What are the biggest challenges facing housing professionals today?
“The biggest challenge is addressing the growing need for affordable or social housing. In New Zealand, the number of people on the housing register seems to increase every quarter – with more and more people rough sleeping or sleeping in garages. This problem is not going away. What is especially disconcerting is the growing number of those 65 and over who are reaching retirement age and finding themselves without a home or the ability to pay rent. The number in this age category is increasing by the day. How do we address the growing needs of the elderly?”
“I think another challenge facing a lot of housing providers is how you fund your operation – coming up with models that allow you to provide decent homes for people while, at the same time, covering your organisational costs.”
What do you believe are the future directions for the housing profession?
“There’s always going to be a need for social housing, and I think there’s certainly going to be plenty of work around. It’s a profession, and we need to develop better training, create better working conditions and better accreditation so people can come into housing and see it as a long-term career. The more experienced people we have involved in the sector long-term the greater the potential for community housing providers to make a difference.”
What do you hope to achieve from your AHI membership?
“It’s a good way of networking with other providers and other housing professionals. I’ve been to a couple of training sessions and I’ve enjoyed my interactions. It’s great [the AHI] is looking to make accreditation in the housing sector an important issue.”