AHI Member: John Shevlin, Housing and Community Services Housing; ACT

Name: John Shevlin

Title: Senior Manager, Policy and Participation, Housing and Community Services Housing; ACT

Joined AHI: February 2017

Residence: Canberra

Years in housing: Two


Current project or activity:

“Housing affordability is a key issue and I have led the work in Housing ACT in developing a draft affordable housing strategy for the ACT. Community consultations on this draft will progress shortly. This has been a collaborative effort with our Economic Development Directorate and that’s been really constructive.”

“Another key activity I am leading is the development of a new integrated management system for Housing ACT – updating and streamlining our operational guidelines, policies and procedures, and making that information more readily available and accessible to our staff and tenants. I also chair a tenants’ consultative group where we engage with our housing tenants to understand their issues of concern but, probably more importantly, to get a tenant perspective on our policies, procedures and practices. That’s been satisfying and we’re getting good results.”

What made you choose a housing career?

“A housing career found me in many ways. When I left the Commonwealth government, I was looking to do something different, and this job had real appeal. I’d worked more in the program and corporate areas in the Commonwealth, and I was keen to get back into an area that I had worked in across my first career – 26 years in the Navy – where I did a lot of work in the policy and strategic fields. It was a chance to get back into that but at a more local level. I’ve really enjoyed the flatter structure and the improved responsiveness that local government provides. You can do things and see the impact more quickly.” 

What are you particularly proud of having accomplished?

“I’m particularly proud of the development work done on a new affordable housing strategy for the ACT. A range of possible initiatives was canvassed with a heavy focus on improving affordable rental housing and ensuring the financial sustainability of Housing ACT. I am looking forward to getting feedback on these proposals in the upcoming community consultations.”

“I’m also proud of my role as chair of the tenants’ consultative group, and the level of engagement and the responsiveness of our tenants in that forum. A particular body of work that is just being finalised is a review of our tenant handbook. It’s being revised with input from the tenants’ consultative group, and that’s been really pleasing. I’d like to think that I’m promoting a bit of a cultural change within the organisation, and modelling the behaviours we would like see from tenants too. Promoting that cultural change and seeing it reflected in our practices will be a critical piece of work.”

What makes you motivated or inspired in your career?

“I’ve found working in housing really rewarding, and the opportunity to work at a local level is particularly satisfying. Making a difference and improving outcomes, and helping ensure public housing is recognised as an important and valued part of the community, is what I’d like to achieve. I lead a diverse team of skilled policy officers, and I enjoy the intellectual discussions and the energy and enthusiasm they bring to their roles.”

What attributes make a great housing or advocacy worker?

“I qualify my remarks by noting that I’m not working on the frontlines, and I don’t have daily interaction with tenants, but an ability to listen and understand the needs of our tenants is critical. I try to treat people the same way I would like to be treated and, if we do that in a non-judgemental and respectful way, we can build effective partnerships with tenants and other organisations. We can work with them to achieve the outcomes they’re looking for.”

What are the biggest challenges facing housing professionals today? 

“Financial viability and meeting unmet demand for public housing are real challenges. Another challenge is seeing public housing tenants as a part of our community. We have to try breaking down stereotypes by actively working with our tenants, identifying problems early and supporting them to find outcomes. We need people to work with us across the community and accept that housing fellow Canberrans is something to which we can all contribute. If we can provide safe, secure and stable accommodation for people, we can avoid a lot of other problems.”

What do you believe are the future directions for the housing profession?

“I’m an optimist and, I think, in identifying problems, we reveal potential opportunities. So I feel the future directions are very positive. New thinking and new ideas are the way we will be able to address the problem of housing affordability and provide appropriate housing for people.”

“There are lots of opportunities and alternative approaches, we just need the courage to pursue them. In some ways, the ACT is a good size to try things. If we ‘fail’, then fail early and fail fast, and then move on and try something else.”

 What do you hope to achieve from your AHI membership?

“I joined – in part – because I wanted to forward some nominations for this year’s Professional Excellence in Housing Awards … and then I found out that I needed to be a member. Kelly [Badewitz] advised there was no one from Housing ACT in the AHI’s membership so I thought I should fix that. Housing ACT has now also become a corporate sponsor as well.”

“I’m really looking forward to broadening my professional network and learning from colleagues but, also, recognising the professional development opportunities the AHI provides. I’m really hoping to foster that learning culture within Housing and Community Services so we can provide the best possible tenancy services to our tenants and deliver the best possible housing outcomes for them. We can only achieve that if we remain up-to-date with professional development and new trends. That’s what I believe the Institute is offering and I look forward to tapping into that, and accessing these opportunities myself.”