Commitment, Respect, and Compassion
North Coast Community Housing
Along the New South Wales North Coast, homelessness has become a major issue. For almost thirty years, The North Coast Community Housing Company Ltd (NCCH) has provided much needed long-term social and affordable housing for people with special needs and low-to-moderate incomes. As the largest community housing provider in the region, NCCH is committed to serving the needs of the area’s people.
NCCH, from its headquarters in Lismore and branch offices in South Tweed Heads and Grafton, manages over eight hundred properties across the far North Coast of NSW. It works in an alliance with other community organisations to address the issues in providing quality community housing and social outcomes for the less fortunate.
NCCH is a well governed organisation that has achieved registration under the National Regulatory System for Community Housing. The skill-based Board of Directors is made up of local people who are interested in tackling the issues of homelessness in the region.
To deliver these programs, the company receives the majority of its funding from tenant rents with supplementary funding from the NSW Family and Community Services. As well as supporting individuals and families on low incomes, a number of properties are managed in collaboration with community partners to serve the needs of women and children escaping domestic violence, people with intellectual and physical disabilities, people with mental illness, people in recovery, young people and aboriginal men and women.
NCCH Chief Executive Officer John McKenna started working with the company in 2009 and oversees the alliances and efforts to provide housing.
“We are the largest community housing organisation the in Northern Rivers region in New South Wales; we have doubled in size since 2006,” Mr McKenna says. “NCCH is a professionalised organisation, and we are accredited against the national community housing standards.”
NCCH is focused on working to become an anchor in the communities where it works – not just providing housing, but working with other services in the region that lead to secure housing outcomes for its tenants.
Starting off, in 1984, as a community housing company with thirty properties for people who were not housed in the private market, the company has grown to a staff of twenty-six people and an annual turnover of $10 million. In 1997, the NCCH merged with Clarence Valley Community Tenancy Schemes as part of the NSW Community Housing Growth Strategy.
Lately, the company has grappled with the challenge of the lack of supply of affordable housing in Australia. To overcome this issue, NCCH started developing its own properties in 2012. The company has added forty-five new homes with a combination of its own funds and some government funding. A number of these housing units cater to people with disabilities and have the facilities and accommodations they need. NCCH is also part of a successful consortium in winning homelessness support projects in the region and is working with families and dealing with youth in the region in order to prevent homelessness.
A considerable amount of resources have been put into professionalising the organisation over the past five years. NCCH’s board of directors is made up of local people who bring a range of relevant professional skills to the organisation that have enabled the business to grow significantly while ensuring its financial stability.
“Initially, the community housing industry was seen as cottage industry, but we have helped professionalise operations – and not just with business within the sector, but most businesses that work with us as well. Our staff have embraced and recognised opportunities where we can expand our services.”
NCCH’s principles drive its growth to accommodate the needs of its clients. “We believe affordable housing is an important part of building a great region,” says Mr McKenna. “Communities thrive when a mix of people, from different backgrounds, live together in neighbourhoods they call home.”
A commitment to respect, compassion, adhering to its core values and strategic partnerships has contributed to the success of the company. Mr McKenna explains that the core values of the company are shared by the staff, tenants and stakeholders of NCCH. “Our values include respect, compassion, professionalism, accountability and safety, and we are committed to serving the needs of our residents and staff based on these values.”
Respect, for NCCH, means the organisation works with people while respecting their individual needs and diversity and treating them in a nonjudgmental way. Compassion involves caring about the individuals NCCH works with and making a difference in people’s lives and the communities in which NCCH staff work and live.
Accountability is a major value because the company is a social organisation that is accountable to its stakeholders and regional communities, with a goal for open communication and transparency in its actions.
The company demonstrates its commitment to safety by providing a safe working environment for NCCH staff, its contractors, clients, visitors and members of the public who come into contact with the organisation. “NCCH is also committed to professionalism by providing high quality and innovative housing services by continually building the skills of our staff, management and directors.”
The company also acknowledges Indigenous people in the region from the Bundjalung, Arakwal, Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl peoples who are the traditional custodians of the land that comprises the Northern Rivers region. Over 15 per cent of clients are Aboriginal and working with the local Aboriginal agencies and population to provide better housing outcomes id a major focus of the company’s current strategic plan.
Collaboration and partnerships are a major part of NCCH’s success. The company is in an alliance with other regional community housing providers across the state to accommodate the needs of homeless and low-income people throughout New South Wales. “They are Housing Plus, Homes North, and Homes Out West,” says Mr McKenna of the other Housing Alliance members.
The housing alliance started in 2010 and was the first of its kind in Australia. “There is a lot of pressure on community housing organisations in Australia to merge. One of the issues that work against mergers in regional areas is the geographic situations and the different needs that community housing organisations provide for each region. We believe the Housing Alliance partners have found an alternative by sharing best practices and focussed research, but still focussing on the local areas they serve.”
NCCH has also partnered with design and development company KoHo to work on building projects. KoHo is a leader of innovative design and cohabitative living facilities for people with disabilities.
“It took three years to get the initial project off ground, and we wouldn’t have done it without them,” shares Mr McKenna. “Eventually, we were able to complete the project ahead of time and under budget. It makes our jobs a lot easier when we have a like-minded partner who shares our values.”
The efforts of NCCH to improve the housing situation for people in the region have not gone unnoticed. Among its awards, the company was awarded the New South Wales Federation of Housing Association Award for excellence of services to their tenants last year. The company was also highly commended with partners KoHo and Lifebridge East in the NSW Disability Industry Innovation awards in the Independent Living category for accommodations for people with disabilities.
“Byron Bay is one of the most expensive regions in New South Wales outside of Metro Sydney and it was said that you couldn’t build affordable housing there, but we were able to design an innovative design and develop a seven unit home for disabled residents,” Mr McKenna recalls. “From the outside, the house looks to be a normal domestic residence but, inside, we provide five independent living facilities for people with disabilities – plus integrated care. This project was completed by KoHo and another example of innovative outcomes is the lease arrangement with regional support provider FSG Australia which supports the financial feasibility by providing an innovative care model for the residents.”
The property in Byron Bay received an award in the “Best Commercial Project Health Buildings Disability Support” category from the Master Builders Association. KoHo partnered with NCCH on the project.
“NCCH is proactively working to ease the affordable housing situation on the North Coast,’ emphasises Mr McKenna. “When I meet new people I partner with, the answer is already ‘yes’; we just need to work out the details. If we don’t work together to solve the housing issue, it will continue to be a struggle for not just those in need but for working families. The solutions come from all levels of government, finance, housing and the private sectors. By working together, we can solve the housing crisis in Australia.”