Community assets pop quiz

Queensland community halls and venues – from corro sugar cane storage sheds to extravagant architectural marvels. We’ve seen them all. Perversely, either end of the spectrum can be a white elephant, or a lively hub of the community. We’ve put the sheds and palaces through the 99 Consulting electron particle accelerator and worked out why!

If you are in the community venue business, here’s a little quiz for you:

Is the purpose of having an asset portfolio clearly stated? 

  1. We’ve always had them
  2. Not really but our hirers mainly run dance classes and yoga so I guess that’s what the assets are for
  3. Yes, the objectives are spelt out and we evaluate how well these are achieved

Do you know how much it costs to own/manage these assets?

  1. No
  2. It’s pretty hard to work this out as various sections across our organisation all play a part
  3. Yes, we budget for and monitor each expense and income area for each asset and also calculate the social return on investment

Is each asset fit for purpose?

  1. Hard to say
  2. Yes, except for disability access, energy efficiency, acoustics, internet access, and the old furniture
  3. Yes. We progressively get occupant, user and hire enquiry feedback to get a picture of issue and expectations

Is the use of each asset still a good fit with the surrounding community?

  1. We don’t know
  2. Possibly not – there are a lot of new school facilities now that can be hired by community OR the community has grown/ changed/ aged/ gentrified etc
  3. No – but we are working with most of the other community asset owners in the district so that between us, we can respond to the changing needs

Do you have a simple way to evaluate that you are getting a good social return from your assets?

  1. No
  2. Not really, we only know how many groups book the assets
  3. Yes – it could be more sophisticated but that would entail more time and energy than we want to expend at the moment.

If you scored mainly a) or b) to the quiz then it’s 99 o’clock! Time to call us in for a fine tune and get those assets working for you! small watch


Unsolicited Praise

I sit on the board of a small housing organisation here in Brisbane.  We’ve been working on a strategic plan and our CEO circulated a copy of one recently developed by the Queensland Council of Social Service.  This is the sort of thing we need, she said – clear, concise and practical.

Can you guess who wrote it? (Hint: it wasn’t me…)

The Reality of Private Renting

Back in July the Queensland Government released its Housing 2020 strategy, setting the direction for the social housing system over the next seven years. The headline action is the transfer of management of 90% of Queensland’s social housing to non-profit providers by 2020, with the creation of eight to ten large-scale non-profit providers.

The bold scope of this change has tended to deflect attention from other aspects of the strategy, but there is something else here that is of crucial importance to tenants. On Page 6 of the strategy there is a table called ‘The Path Forward’ with two columns. The first is headed ‘The old: Features of Queensland’s old social housing system’ while the second is ‘The new: Features of a flexible, efficient and responsive housing assistance system’. The very first item on this table lists the feature of ‘the old’ as ‘a view that social housing is a home for life’ and ‘the new’ as ‘greater emphasis on social housing as a transitional period on the path to private rental or home ownership’.

This is a change that has actually been coming for a while. Since 2005, new Queensland social housing tenants have been signed up on a ‘duration of need’ basis, with most tenants granted four-year leases with a review of eligibility at the end. The incoming government shortened this to three years. However, it is a long time since a government stated this aim so strongly, or referred so clearly to the private rental market as a destination for social housing tenants.

This change is all about rationing. More than 20,000 households are waiting for social housing in Queensland, many of them in dire circumstances. It’s understandable that the government would want to do all it can to house them. However, this policy direction also shines a light on the other sectors, and particularly the private rental sector. How well is this sector able to meet the housing needs of low income households?

The first issue with private rental is its affordability. The National Housing Supply Council reports that in 2009-10, 60% of low income rental households – over half a million households – were paying over 30% of their income in rent and over 200,000 households were paying over 50%. This doesn’t suggest a lot of hope for those departing social housing for the private sector.

Rental Affordability

Some work we’ve been doing recently for a local client bears this out. They asked us to report on affordable locations in which to settle low income refugees in the Brisbane, Redland and Moreton local government areas. The answer for many households is that there are no affordable locations. For a single person on Newstart allowance, for instance, there are five suburbs in this entire area where the median rent on a one-bedroom unit is less than 40% of their income, and these are outer suburbs where one-bedroom units are rare as hens’ teeth. The only way these clients can afford to rent is by sharing.

Other Issues
However, affordability is only part of the picture. In the July 2013 joint edition of Parity and HousingWorks, Greg Budworth (CEO of Compass Housing Services in NSW) provides an insightful comparison between social housing and private rental. He analyses 24 aspects of housing management under the headings of tenant obligations, tenant rights, landlord powers, landlord duties, application processes and other issues like appeal rights, tenant engagement and quality assurance.

Of the 24 factors he analyses, seven are much the same for both sectors, and on the other 17 tenants are clearly better off in social housing. They have better access (only needing to make one application), more security of tenure, more accountability by their landlord, a greater likelihood that their landlord will work with them to resolve problems and refer them to support services, and much better assurance that their landlord will adhere to good standards of management practice.

We need to do better…
For as long as I can remember, the private rental market has been a backwater of housing policy. Aside from residential tenancies legislation, the market is pretty much left to itself. This works fine for many people, but clearly not for low income households, and particularly not for the highly disadvantaged households who are the main users of the social housing system. If the Queensland Government is serious about the private rental market taking a greater role in housing low income Queenslanders, it might need to take a closer look at how this market is operating.

From audits to plaudits: thinking Annual Reports

I’m really liking this year’s annual report by Youth and Family Services, Logan (YFS). They’ve used a poster-style layout that folds down to A5. It includes lots of great photos and a layout that highlights their achievements in 2012-13 without getting bogged down in text about business as usual. Publishing their financial report in a separate document liberated us to be creative with the rest of the report. It was fun working with designer Scott Edgar and YFS staff to come up with something fresh and different.

Over the years I’ve worked on lots of annual reports. My favourites have been for clients who use this “have-to-do” task as an opportunity to position their organisation strategically. For some, that’s been about impressing fundersmall p2s and donors, for others it’s been about demonstrating their corporate partnership credentials or profiling the human impacts of their work to build buy-in from decision makers and their influencers.

A section of the 2012-13 YFS Annual Report

For one memorable project, my brief from the Director General of a Queensland Government department was to win an Australian Reporting Award – I hope he still has the trophy somewhere!

Clients say one of the most common uses for annual reports (beyond legislated requirements) is to help potential recruits prepare for job interviews! I’d like to think annual reports can do much more than that. If you know of any great annual reports, let us know.

Tenant Participation and Engagement Seminar

I had a great day last Tuesday, flying to Sydney to present at the Australasian Housing Institute’s Tenant Participation and Engagement professional practice seminar. It featured a great line-up of speakers on an issue that’s often neglected in the rush for corporate efficiency. As a bonus, the amazing Tony Gilmour from the Housing Action Network quoted from our article on the subject in his opening presentation. Thanks Tony, and thanks Donella and co for putting the day together.

The Dream Client

We like our clients however they come – the more variety, shapes and sizes the better. We have noticed over the years though that clients with certain characteristics tend to get the best results. Some of the secret ingredients are these:

  • They really know what they need. They can spell out why the work’s needed, a very clear objective, what they need delivered by us and by when. This is really whP1040678at gets the cake to rise – worth spending some time to get it right. (See our handy briefing tips)
  • They give us a ball park idea of a realistic budget which means we can work out how to tackle the job in a way that fits the bill. They ask for a quote or proposal and negotiate any reasonable changes which makes sure we are headed in the right direction from the word go.
  • They choose the right person/people to be the project manager and advisor/s. This means things stay on the rails at the client’s end, and the client gives congruent feedback, rather than conflicting advice.
  • They hold the consultant accountable for what they’ve signed up for – although we crack the whip on ourselves so the client doesn’t need to.
  • They have enough time to give prompt feedback on drafts and the layers of approval in the organisation are manageable.
  • They stick to their own brief so the job doesn’t change part way through, which tends to waste the hours available due to re-work, re-drafting etc.
  • They pay promptly for completed work. For small businesses who tend to have low overheads but are watching the cash flow, paying within a couple of weeks is a fair deal.

For busy clients who have rarely used consultants, we often help them wrangle the consultancy if they want us to. For example, we can write the brief with them, help them to sharpen their objective if it is still fuzzy, provide a simple example of a contract to modify if they don’t have their own and so on.

Stay tuned for a new post on The Dream Consultant! We’ve learnt a bit about the dream consultant over the years – we’re not perfect, but we have been dismayed to see some clients very poorly served by consultants who overcharged and under-delivered.

Courting and consorting

We are currently seeing a new wave of consortia, partnerships and amalgamations. Some of these moves are in response to perceptions that current and future government tenders will favour providers that can service large geographic areas such as regions or states. Others are hoping that increasing their size through amalgamation will protect them from the impacts of funding reductions and policy changes.The source!

When we’re working with organisations considering various collaboration options, one of the questions they ask us is how to decide who they should consort with. Given that a business partnership is much like a marriage, I recently turned to my reliable source of wisdom on many topics, the Ladies Guide by J.H. Kellogg M.D. (1895).

Dr Kellogg has some sound advice for young ladies considering who to marry, and this advice is equally relevant to organisations considering consortia or amalgamation. Here is a summary of his advice:
1. The individual should be the possessor of good health and a good constitution (i.e. don’t shack up with a basket case!)
2. He should be a man of good habits (find out whether they have met their commitments and honoured their contracts in the past)
3. He should be of suitable temperament (assess their compatibility with your organisation in terms of values, service model, culture and the like)
4. He should be of good morals and good reputation (find out what others say – get some intel from those in the know and do some research)
5. The individual must be of the proper age (consider how established the organisation is, and that their thinking is from the same era as yours)
6. The prospective husband should be of proportionate size (i.e. consider size and power imbalances and establish roles and governance up front)
7. Take care when marrying a cousin (perhaps the relevance of this is to check that your organisations don’t have the same weaknesses, and that you are not creating conflicts of interest or nepotism perceptions)

A decent time for courtship is recommended by us as well as by Dr Kellogg:
“The primary object of courtship should be to allow the parties to become acquainted with each other’s characters so as to know whether or not there exists such mutual adaptation as to make a life partnership desirable or likely to be a happy one.”

If there’s time, it’s worth considering low-commitment forms of partnership before signing up to a long-term contract or amalgamation. After all, as Dr Kellogg says, “young people can judge of each other’s characters much better by daylight than lamplight.” Working together on a project, or sub-contracting some services for a trial period, can be a chance to experience working together before committing too deeply.

Following Dr Kellogg’s advice will help you avoid the mistake made by a young woman he features, who married a man of obnoxious temperament to avoid being left an old maid: “During the first few months of marriage, when her eyes had become thoroughly opened to the folly of her course and the dreadful slavery to which she had bound herself, reason was nearly dethroned; but it was too late to correct the fatal mistake. She had nothing to do but bear it with as much calmness and patience as she could summon.”