Last week we met at Townhall Avenue, Preston with the City of Darebin, Housing Choices Australia, Six Degrees and Manresa Constructions to celebrate the start of construction of our shared Affordable Housing project. (The Victorian Government made a significant Big Housing Build grant to support this project.) We were surrounded by concrete mixers and people in hard hats - it was fantastic to see the building progressing faster than expected!
Construction of 39 affordable housing units is underway in Preston as part of Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation Affordable Housing Challenge.
The Foundation took a risk when we placed a $1 million grant for affordable housing on the table and asked local governments to put forward sites and community housing providers to put forward housing concepts. We also offered a $1 million impact investment but, given the low interest rates available through NHFIC, this was not taken up.
City of Darebin put forward a well-located site near public transport, shops, medical services, a public library, schools, job opportunities and green space. The site was a carpark and the airspace above the carpark offered wonderful opportunities for new homes for people facing financial disadvantage.
Housing Choices Australia was selected, subject to the project progressing through Council probity processes. HCA has a strong balance sheet and an outstanding record of innovative community housing projects.
Foundation CEO Dr Catherine Brown OAM discusses the background to the Affordable Housing Challenge Preston site.
I was asked recently what I had learned from this project so I will provide a few reflections.
Philanthropic funding is the most special funding because it can truly be used to fund innovation, to test new models and services. It can be used flexibly at different stages of a project but, in the case of housing, it can be especially useful in early stages to develop feasibility studies, architectural concepts, detailed financial modelling and cover other startup costs.
Working with local government is truly working across sectors. While Philanthropy and local government both have community wellbeing at heart, we operate under different legislation. Working together requires all parties to understand the probity and governance requirements under completely different legislation. I admire the patience of local government managers who must work in a complex stakeholder environment while seeking to find innovative solutions to community problems like lack of affordable housing. We, on the other hand have to make sure we are supporting charitable purposes (Charities Act 2013) and meeting other requirements from the ACNC and Treasury. For example, we must fund charitable organisations with exactly the right tax endorsements for the particular source of charitable funds.
Partners need a good understanding of their own compliance environment. They need to be open to understanding another sector’s compliance and governance requirements. Growing a good understanding of different sectors means future projects will be faster. The first time is usually the hardest. We are already in discussion with another local government about another project that builds on the learning from this first Affordable Housing Challenge project.
A sense of humour is also critical. Yes Minister or Borgen is essential viewing to help keep everything in perspective!
Such a wonderful outcome - 39 units of affordable housing in Preston. More projects to come.
Dr Catherine Brown OAM
Chief Executive Officer