Published: 03 December 2012
Extracted chapter from Griffiths, David (Ed.) Co-operators - Co-operation and Co-operatives, Southeast Housing Co-operative Ltd, 2012, pp 18-20.
I have been a co-op member for 25 years. I have been chairperson for 10 out of 12 years since we were incorporated as SouthEast Housing Co-operative Ltd in 2000.
I was a member of the former Frankston RHC, which was established in 1985. Like many members, joining was a result of being in housing crisis. After my mother and I were housed my life changed dramatically, going to meetings with other co-ops and generally learning what co-op housing was all about became very rewarding.
I had never been actively involved in any organisation before, yet alone a co-operative. Attending meetings and taking part in decision-making was daunting at first. I soon learnt that the co-op was a small community with every one helping and supporting each other. Frankston Co-op had general meetings of all members to make decisions.
Over the years, I was able to learn to take part in the committees, take minutes and express an opinion - doing things that I never thought I would be able to do.
Having secure and affordable housing was such a relief after so many years of the uncertainty of private rental. This left me with the realisation that as long as I participated, paid my rent and took care of my home that I had a home for as long as I needed it. What was very rewarding was seeing other members joining the co-op and watching them grow in self-esteem. Having secure affordable housing, allowed many members to advance their education and also some were able to get into the workplace and purchase their own homes. I always found this a rewarding part of being a member of a co-op.
In 1997, Frankston Co-op decided that it would be an advantage to start discussions with other housing co-operatives about merging to form a larger co-op, as we could see that some changes were going to take place in community housing. We were able to get three co-ops together and worked for about three years to form SEHC, this took place in July 2000.
For the first time, we formed a Board of Directors. Members of the Board of Directors came from three former co-ops and there was one independent Director. This was another learning exercise as we were acting on behalf of all 101 members; adapting to the change took a little time for some members. For me being a SEHC member and a Board member for the past 12 years has been both a challenge and a very rewarding experience. In 2004 Moorabbin RHC decide to merge with SEHC, this brought us up to 150 properties. We now have 160 properties - 10 owned by the co-operative. The other properties are managed for the Victorian Department of Human Services.
In recent years we had to go through the process of being registered by the Housing Registrar as a housing provider, which was lot of frustration and hard work. The Housing Registrar was established in 2005 and we became a registered agency on 21 November 2008.
By 2010 SEHC was right to be pleased about its achievements, but we were too pleased and complacent. We made a big mistake - issuing a new lease without prior consultation with members and the owners of the properties - the Department of Human Services. On the 13 January 2011 the Housing Registrar issued the co-op with a directive to develop a revised lease in consultation with members and DHS. On the 18 October 2011 the Housing Registrar withdrew the intervention.
The intervention by the Registrar was a worrying time. However, I am pleased to say that the Board and management are to be congratulated for the effort they put in to working to have the intervention resolved to the satisfaction of the Registrar and members. The intervention was a wake-up call for SouthEast as an organisation and as a co-operative.
I have found that being a Board member and working with and for our members has kept me busy and offered me opportunities that I never thought I would be able to have. I look forward to seeing SEHC increase its housing stock and give other needy people the opportunity to have secure and affordable housing.
The General Manager and the staff are a pleasure to work with and provide a dedicated and professional service to SEHC and our members.
Co-ops provide a higher level of asset management than public housing and are also financially viable and have always been so.
Public housing is in crisis due to lack of planning and funding and it has been stated that public housing has been running at a serious loss over many years. I would like to see the Government look to co-operative housing as an essential part of the future of social housing. Housing co-ops are the way of the future and should be promoted by both state and federal governments. Governments should actively work towards growing the co-operative sector in Australia. Regretfully in other States such as New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia, the co-operative has been or is in the process of being eliminated.
What is critical to SouthEast is the meaningful participation of members and we have worked hard to engage members over the last 18 months. Accountability and transparency can always be improved and we have upgraded the website and our newsletter by making them more professional, accessible and informative.
On the 30 April 2012 the Victorian Government announced a public consultation on the future of social housing, i.e. public, community and social housing. This was an opportunity for us to engage members in the development of a submission. The staff and/or the Board could have produced a submission but we wanted the members to own a submission, so we embarked on an extended consultation process with members over a three-month period. This resulted in:
• Six articles posted on the SouthEast website between 30 April and 6 July 2012.
• Two special consultation issues of the Housing Futures newsletter on 22 May and 5 June 2012.
• Three Member Forums on 12 June (Frankston), 18 June (Bentleigh) and 27 June (Bayswater North) attended by 21 members.
• A General Meeting of 29 members on 16 July 2012.
The agenda for the General Meeting was circulated before the meeting and included the draft minutes of the three Member Forums and a draft submission to the Victorian Government.
In brief, the general meeting confirmed the views expressed at the three Member Forums - members primarily see co-operative housing as a destination, they believe that there should be a universal right to affordable and secure housing, that there should be more co-operative housing opportunities, that the experience of SEHC proves that the co-operative housing model works and that the ultimate goal of Government should be to support diverse and mixed housing.
The whole submission was read - the question asked by the Victorian Government and the draft response - and members were invited to propose amendments, which would be discussed after the whole submission had been read to the meeting. There were 12 amendments that were discussed and adopted before the submission was ratified unanimously by the meeting. Subsequently, the Board at its meeting on the 27 July 2012 endorsed the submission adopted by the general meeting. The submission was forwarded to the Government on the 31 July 2012.
Rental Housing Co-operatives have an important role to play as part of the mix of housing options that can help to renew the social housing system in Victoria. SouthEast is financially sustainable and achieves consistent annual surpluses that are invested in new houses and improving existing homes. We have high levels of tenant satisfaction and a capacity for growth and innovation. We are also part of a worldwide housing co-operative movement - over 210,000 housing co-operatives with more than 18 million properties and 27 million members.
We must continue to engage with members and recognise that the Board is accountable to the members and that there is always a capacity to improve. There is a saying that co-operative housing is a pimple on the bum of Governments. We don’t want to be a pimple on the bums of our members.
Shirley Faram has been Chairperson of the SouthEast Housing Co-operative Ltd since 2000 except for an 18 month period. She is a member of the board of Co-operatives Victoria. Previously she served four years as Secretary of Frankston Council’s Good Neighbour program and four years as a board member and worker with the Bayside Youth Housing Project. She has been a member of a housing co-operative for 25 years - 12 with SouthEast and 13 with the Frankston Rental Housing Co-operative Ltd.