Thursday, April 14, 2016

Olympic Park-Bridge Housing management partnership

Sydney Olympic Park Authority ('SOPA') and Bridge Housing have entered into an arrangement for management of up to 50 dwellings. SOPA is a statutory authority responsible for management and development of Sydney Olympic Park. Bridge Housing is a registered 'Tier 1' Community Housing Provider, currently managing 1716 Social and Affordable housing properties across Sydney. 

Bridge Housing's 2015 annual report states that Bridge and SOPA have agreed that Bridge will manage "up to 50" properties delivered under an affordable housing program devised by the park authority. According to the Bridge Housing website, the properties variously contain 1, 2, 3 and 4 bedrooms, and are interspersed among private dwellings. 23 are currently tenanted, and this number is expected to rise to 50 by 2017. 

Above: aerial view of Sydney Olympic Park

Bridge Housing's website provides that the agreement was "won" by "competitive tender", and its management services are provided to SOPA on a fee for service basis. Accordingly, Bridge Housing says it is unbound by requirements of the National Regulatory System for Community Housing (NRSCH) in its management of the properties, except if its activities impact upon its viability as a Community Housing Provider. The agreement is therefore an essentially private arrangement for the provision and management of housing, rather than a conventional Affordable Housing program. 

However, Bridge Housing has provided that it complies with the NSW Affordable Housing Guidelines in its management of the SOPA properties.

According to SOPA General Manager (Commercial) Nick Hubble, the Authority has developed a policy to allocate properties delivered under the scheme to persons employed within the park. He provides further, "We have a preference in the park for people who are engaged in sports programs...Bridge Housing essentially take our policy, they connect people who are looking for that housing supply, and run an end to end service". Bridge Housing's website states that the policy allows for the properties to be allocated to athletes, coaches, technical staff, and other workers such as police operating in the park. Bridge has provided that allocation of the properties to such persons is preferred though not strictly required under the SOPA policy.

Our response

Community Housing Providers are increasingly vital to the delivery and management of Social and Affordable Housing in NSW. In addition to dominating the Affordable Housing space, the Future Directions strategy declares that community providers will own or manage up to 35% of all Social Housing in the State by 2026. Large 'Tier 1 providers' such as Bridge are particularly important to the provision and maintenance of these services.

As a corporation charged by statute with ownership and management of what was once Crown land, SOPA does inhabit a somewhat ambiguous space between the public and the private. But it is clearly not engaged in Social or Affordable Housing issues in any meaningful sense. Its intention to develop and provide properties at below market rent - even a modest 50 - is therefore welcome. As is its implicit acknowledgment that other organisations are better positioned than itself to managed those properties. Other private and semi-private organisations would do well to adopt a similar sense of social responsibility.

But the projects confuses a development that a private landlord and its agent elect to offer on an affordable basis with what is conventionally called 'Affordable Housing' (for example, as defined by the Centre for Affordable Housing). There appears to be little to nothing here that actually requires the SOPA properties to be provided as Affordable Housing. Moreover, the allocation policy applied to the project by the park authority is particularly narrow. Bridge's decision to adhere to the NSW Affordable Housing Guidelines should at least ensure appropriate management and charging of rent. 

But it also raises the question of whether the line between community service and private initiative could be allowed to blur for providers ambitious to expand their reach. Indeed we are aware of instances in which Community Housing Providers engaged in fee for service management have abandoned such requirements in ending individual tenancies. Community Housing Providers are also exempted from the Property, Stock and Business Agents Act that regulates private operators engaged in property management.

In all, it is appropriate to question whether Community Housing Providers should be bound by the national regulatory requirements, as well as applicable State-level provisions, for all properties they manage. These are providers that have received significant public funds and land to assist their rise to prominence. And the national requirements were developed by the sector itself - partly as a means of demonstrating its professionalism and capacity for self-regulation. But more than anything, they should be bound to a standard befitting their status as the new vanguard of Social and Affordable Housing. 

We welcome feedback from all tenants, including those resident in Sydney Olympic Park affordable housing properties. This may be provided to contact [at] Your anonymity will be respected. 

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