Architecture and Morality

Evolve Housing

Running a not-for-profit is not just about being a do-gooder. You need lots of real-world experience to run with the people with the money.
Ask Andrea Galloway of Evolve Housing, based in Parramatta in Sydney’s west. She recently won the Business Innovation Award in Telstra’s Women of the Year competition, the judges calling her “courageous, confident and innovative” [please see sidebar for further details].

Evolve Housing is a for purpose, not for profit organisation, the purpose being the relief of housing stress and homelessness. “We manage, on behalf of government, a number of their homes, and also develop our own homes, and manage on behalf of the private sector for those experiencing housing stress and affordability issues,” Ms Galloway explains.

Evolve is not at all dependent on charitable donations (although any contributions will be gratefully received!); it relies on its own balance sheet, “with investment decisions around that to increase the housing and support programmes we can offer and make people more economically independent.”

The body has been around for more than 20 years, merging some five years ago with two other entities. When Andrea came on board the name changed to Evolve Housing. The organisation is in the top two of the dozen or so such providers in New South Wales, given short term leases by the government to manage on their behalf. Evolve Housing charges the tenants 25 per cent of gross income up to Market Rent; the federal government chips in with what is called ‘Commonwealth rent assistance’, a payment system that makes up for some shortfall to market rent. “We run our business to a large extent on the Commonwealth rent assistance,” Ms Galloway explains, “and over the years we have managed to generate surpluses, which in turn have allowed us to diversify our income streams so now we can be less dependent on government-linked funding.”

Surpluses have been invested in properties, while Evolve Housing has also won numerous tenders “where there has been part government contribution and part debt funded by us, and we have leveraged against the capital growth in those properties to create more.” The name is apt – “we have to keep evolving. We have to be inventive and innovative.” Ms Galloway has invaluable experience in the private sector; she says it was critical to upskill from both a board and a management perspective, “so that when external stakeholders or financiers looked at our company they could understand we had the commercial acumen to be able to move forward.”

This professionalism has helped to reshape the sector where there was a traditional hesitancy to fund in the social and affordable sector. “We have managed to change that dynamic quite a lot.” The Evolve Housing board was revamped nearly two years ago and is now conspicuously skills-based. One proof, Ms Galloway believes, was taking home the PwC Transparency Award last year for its governance and transparency.

The Evolve Housing team is able to talk the talk with the financial sector and convince it of its credentials – but this is not a put-down of others in this business. A very large number of organisations of all shapes and sizes work, mainly in the not for profit sector, to help the disadvantaged or disabled in the community across NSW and Australia as a whole, and in virtually every case the people running them are well motivated and sincere.

The team at Evolve Housing is not alone in bemoaning a political climate in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to deliver outcomes without updated government policy (at state and federal levels) – even if any decisions are made – and the private sector, here as in other business areas, is having to assume ever more sovereign risk. “It is very difficult in New South Wales because there has been a void in policy direction for nearly three years. That is why Evolve Housing has had to develop diversified revenue streams so as to deliver on our strategy and purpose.”

The challenge has been the lack of thinking beyond the term of a government – the four years or so of its tenure – while “you have an inconsistent approach from a federal level to state level. In our case there is no housing minister, at federal or state. It is very difficult when federal government says ‘we are pushing it down to the state’, because housing, and housing affordability, is not a state issue. It’s across Australia, and it becomes quite frustrating when there is a lack of policy in this area.” Innovation becomes even more difficult to achieve without policies or programmes in place, says Ms Galloway with some feeling. “We have managed to create ‘private relationships’ [with the financial world] in a not-for-profit sense and created outcomes, but there doesn’t seem to be a consistent approach [at government level].”

Better attention to the issues would seem to be fundamental to a government’s job, though, surely? There are, she reminds us, some 1.6 million Australians in what is known as ‘housing stress’, which means they are spending 30 per cent or more of their total (gross) income on trying to keep a roof over their heads. The luckier general public, as well as some of the politicians, could do with a bit more awareness of issues like housing affordability and social housing provision, she believes. “We are trying to educate through a mixed-tenure type model, which creates a diverse community,” with relatively disadvantaged and advantaged people rubbing shoulders, as it were, instead of ‘ghetto-ising’ the former. “In anything we develop, we have some social and some affordable housing and try to have some private housing as well.” The mix is critical. “We can break the cycle. When a third-generation unemployed kid sees [a neighbour] put on their clothes every day and go to work, they will know it could be an option for them too.”

But trying to explain the positives to the community at large is far from easy. Too many potential neighbours assume the worst, namely “drug-abusers, paedophiles and the rest” of the dregs of society, says Ms Galloway. Of course, “It’s not that at all.” Affordable housing is about living closer to where you work and not wasting stretched resources on lengthy commutes. Evolve Housing has to buy off plan in most of its developments because if the organisation submitted the DA there “would probably be a four-fold increase in complaints just because the word ‘social’ or ‘affordable’ was mentioned. That frightens me, because realistically it could be their [the complainants’] own children or even themselves that could qualify for such a property.” Certainly, anyone is vulnerable to becoming vulnerable (Ms Galloway quotes the 80-20 rule). “I think we have to have more of an understanding around that.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

January 18, 2019, 3:30 AM AEDT