Published: 03 December 2012
Greg M. Nolan
Extracted chapter from Griffiths, David (Ed.) Co-operators - Co-operation and Co-operatives, Southeast Housing Co-operative Ltd, 2012, pp 26-27.
I first became aware of co-ops in 1989, when I was a single parent, living in rental accommodation with my then two-year-old son, Matthew. I had been through a family court case, which was resolved in mid 1988, and once again found myself in the situation of having to uproot our nice little ‘pad’ in Caulfield, because it had been sold from under us, to the expanding accountancy firm next door, for redevelopment. This was not the first time I was forced to vacate a comfortable, stable ‘home’ because the economic advancement of business took precedence over me and my son’s security of tenure, and all the physical and mental well-being that goes with that.
So, I was very lucky and grateful to be accepted into the Moorabbin R.H.C. in October 1989, and housed almost immediately in the South Oakleigh unit in which I still live happily, and have enjoyed being an accepted member of the local community, all through my son’s primary and secondary years to the present day. There has been that one thing, Security of Tenure, that I consider as the single most important aspect of living in a pleasant and well- maintained co-op home.
This has not just happened, however, without effort and participation on my part, and other members of all co-ops. There have been plenty of ‘battles’ over the years, with bureaucrats as an extension of State Governments of the day. These have mostly been Econocrats, i.e. economic rationalists, who have failed to comprehend that ‘community’ rather than ‘market’, is a far greater driver of real economic health and progress, rather than short sighted budget and dollar savings, which inevitably lead to higher consequential costs and poor human outcomes down the track.
As referred to in The Phoenix, a 2010 booklet (pp 29, 30), published by SouthEast Housing Co-op, I was active in defending the co-op sector from the arbitrary and sudden attempt by the Ministry of Housing in Nov 1998, to end all co-op head leases as from end of June 1999.
We knew as a sector-wide group, that this purely economic and budgetary decision, based on a report by KZ consultants, would have resulted in community tenants having to revert to public housing tenancies, or some other form of semi-privatised housing management, none of which would have saved a single dollar for the government in the long term. We could all see that these decisions would cause much unnecessary anxiety and disruption to members and that the valued community aspect of their housing would become diminished.
It was also strongly believed that such arbitrary and far-reaching action was probably illegal, so the co-ops as a whole took on the Department to Arbitration, and eventually succeeded in overturning the decision and its undesirable consequences.
During the mid 1990s, I was involved, along with others from several co-ops, in the formation and incorporation of the Joint Housing Collective, which was the State-wide Peak body for Rental Housing Co-ops, and now is effectively under the umbrella of the Community Housing Federation Victoria (CHFV). I have had many philosophical and idealist debates over the years, with both co-op people and housing bureaucrats, including past and present personnel, particularly about the twin concepts of ‘accountability’ and ‘transparency’.
My line of argument has always been that concentration of power in the few, e.g. a Board or a CEO, rather than the traditional, more democratic principle of co-op members having a ‘clear view’ based on information, consultation and transparency, being an ultimate decision-making body, tends to result in less accountability, not more.
In the lead-up to, and since, the Housing Provider Framework was introduced in December 2007 there was much pressure put on Boards and management of co-ops to comply with the new regulatory regime, i.e. for ‘accountability’ and ‘transparency’ to be a focus of smaller groups, e.g. a Board. I believe that the SEHC management of that period from early 2005 to 2011 was clearly focused on concentration of power, and accountability was only upwards to the Ministry or the Registrar, and decisions presented to the members were a ‘fait accompli’ in fact, and the process of making some very important decisions was not at all transparent.
I believe that the emotive issue over the controversial and questionable leases of 2010/11, that caused so much upheaval in our Co-op at that time, arose because the Co-op had allowed to let slip that basic principle of consultation with its members. Since the long and hard fought issue over the leases has been resolved, which I was involved with as part of the Lease Committee of 2011, I feel that the Co-op’s relations with its own members, has improved, but I feel there is still more to be done to achieve the right level of openness, i.e. ‘transparency’ to members.
So, as I said at the beginning, the two most important things to all co-op members are security of tenure, and a safe, well maintained home, and this is basically what co-op living offers us, ‘peace of mind’ and a ‘piece of land’.
This security, both mental and physical, is what we have all fought for in the past, and is still the most important thing to all co-op members, past, present and future.