RMIT – The Asset Management for Social Housing Manual

Summary of the project, product.

The collaboration developed theAsset Management for Social Housing Manual as the first publicly available asset management manual specifically written for social housing providers. The purpose of the Manual is to elevate asset management across the sector to:

a) assist a process of culture change which acknowledges social housing organisations are custodians of the wealth embodied in their housing assets and that these assets also form part of the wealth of the nation, and

b) empower asset managers to take a longer term and strategic approach to managing housing portfolios – using evidence to plan beyond maintenance.

Description of project or framework addressing the assessment criteria

The Manual is a guide to asset management for Australasian social housing providers, but it is also likely to have a global market. It will be available as an affordable, online subscription service permitting it to be periodically updated. It will incorporate a community of practice forum for practitioners to seek and provide information, and to make contributions to the Manual as a ‘living’ document.

Use of Best Practice Asset Management Principles

The Manual recognises social housing as a unique asset class. It is aligned to the ISO55000 standard for Asset Management and the International Infrastructure Management Manual.  The Manual takes lifecycle approach and takes social housing providers through how:

  1. to develop cost-effective management strategies for the long-term;
  2. to develop defined level of service standards linked to performance;
  3. to consider demand management;
  4. to manage risks;
  5. to incorporate sustainability and greater cultural responsiveness, and;
  6. incorporate continuous improvement.

Degree of originality and ingenuity of solution

The Manual responds to a gap in knowledge and expertise in the sector and a preference of practitioners for specialist guides and training (Sharam et al 2021). Social housing asset management workforce development has been identified by the Australian Housing Institute as a pressing need. The Manual provides social housing examples in ‘how to’ explanations and case studies provided by social housing providers. Not only does this mean practitioners will better relate to the material but it will directly address issues specific to the sector. It introduces content that cannot be found in general guides.

The ingenuity of the Manual lays in the collaboration required to develop it. Leadership was provided by Dr Sharam, who initiated the project, and who enlisted partners within and outside of the sector, bringing asset management expertise together with social housing practitioners, researchers and IPWEA (NZ) as the publisher and body who will manage the content into the future ensuring the document is dynamic and has enduring impact.  For IPWEA (NZ) the project is a pilot for the development of other specialist asset management manuals, and thus it could have broader impact.

Program and project management

An Executive team was established to gather and write material and guide its development as an online product. The Executive was comprising of:

  • Dr. Andrea Sharam (RMIT University) Lead
    • James Clough (Junction Housing, representing the Australasian Housing Institute) 
    • Murray Pugh (IPWEA NZ) 
    • Steve Lyons (CEO, SPM Assets)  
    • Prof. Terry Burke (Swinburne University)  
    • Dr. Callum Logan (RMIT University)  
    • Karen Sherry (RMIT University) 

IPWEA (Aust.) also supported the project through providing consent for material in their Practice Note 3 (Buildings) to be utilised.

An Advisory Group representing  a mixture of regions and state and community housing providers was established to comment on content and provide examples and case studies. The Advisory Group membership also reflects the types of internal organisational stakeholders involved in strategic asset management and other types of decisions involving asset management (such as project control groups for example).

  • Kris Robinson , Business Development Manager,  Regional Housing Queensland (QLD)
  • Mark Donnelly, Manager Asset Planning, Communities WA (WA)
  • Donald Proctor, General Manager Property Strategy & Delivery, Mission Housing (Aust.)
  • Shari Fielke, Asset Strategist, Housing SA (SA)
  • Aaron Gay, National Asset Portfolio Development Manager, CHL Aboriginal Housing (Aust.)
  • Duane Moroney, General Manager National Assets, Housing Choices Australia (Aust.)
  • Sam Romoro, Chief  Financial Officer, Aboriginal Housing Victoria (Vic.)
  • Chris Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Foundation Housing (WA)
  • Tracy Massam, Asset Manager, Tamaki Regeneration Company (NZ)
  • Jae Barrett, Asset Data Manager, Kāinga Ora (NZ)
  • Sue Grigg, Senior Tenancy Manager and Danni Nash, Director Property, Unison Housing (Vic.)

Dr Sharam, Dr Logan and Steve Lyons also presented to and gathered feedback from the sector through the Australasian Housing Institute’s 2021 Masterclass series.  

Benefit/Value of the project to the community or organisation

The value of Australian social housing is an estimated $105b. Housing portfolios in Australia and NZ are typically dominated by highly depreciated assets. Liabilities are growing at a time when the need for social housing is great. There is a very significant backlog of maintenance. Furthermore, functionality requirements are changing (e.g. for disability access and more lone person housing) and there is a need to reduce environmental impact whilst increasing resilience. Social housing is highly residualised meaning the tenant population is increasing comprised of very poor people with high and often complex needs. This was not always the case. Residualisation reduces revenue whilst increasing costs (through greater property damage). Concentration of social housing creates a range of problems. The infamous Radburn estates are widely regarded as having failed to provide defensible space and thus security and safety. All these issues are central to asset management.

They are huge and complex challenges. However, it is very common for providers to be maintenance focussed without coherent strategic planning or investment in systems. The Manual will be a key education resource for providers.

Fostering best practice asset management will increase the capacity of providers to strategically manage their portfolios while managing their day-to-day businesses, releasing resources to invest in the core purpose of providing much needed housing. Over time improvements to asset management will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in avoided costs, generate substantial savings, increase the quality of housing (and thus the wellbeing outcomes of tenants), reduce carbon emissions, and result in more housing.

Opinion as to specific contribution made by the nominated individual/team/organisation

The project is unfunded and represents a significant financial and time contribution by the individuals and organisations involved. 

Steve Lyon and NAMS as co-owners of the NAMS Property Manual, and IPWEA (Aust.) as owner of Practice Note 3 (Buildings) kindly provided the project with the right to use their intellectual property. Similarly, Sharam and Burke provided intellectual property derived from their research and teaching.

Project lead, Dr Sharam was the lead writer and organiser. She contributed 50% of her time over a year to bring together content from the NAMS Property Manual, Practice Note 3 and the other sources, rewriting content, and producing new content assisted by Logan and Burke. The practitioners on the Executive and Advisory Group also produced content.

Lyons led the development of the survey used for the Australasian Housing Institute’s 2021 Masterclass series. The results were used to understand how the sector understood asset management and what practitioners perceive as key issues. This engagement elicited for example that is a lack of guidance available on building commissioning and handover.

SPM Assets and IPWEA (NZ) provided the graphic design work. IPWEA (NZ) will host the Manual on their website and manage subscriptions and future content. The Australasian Housing Institute is providing recordings some of the presentations to its Masterclasses as video content, increasing the accessiblility and appeal of content. Junction Housing (Clough) also contributed video content. Administrative support and research assistance was provide by Sherry.

General comments

A number of gaps in general guides were addressed through new content. For example:

  • Social Return on Investment is an important aspect of social housing provision enabling providers to establish the dollar value of non-financial outcomes. The chapter contextualises SROI as part of multicriteria assessments and links to a number of specialist external tools and resources.
  • Tenant Engagement in asset management. An undeveloped practice in Australasia. We were assisted by a specialist practitioner in the area.
  • Cultural Safety is a term orginating from NZ to describe culturally appropriate service delivery. Reflecting the need to place the user (in this case the tenant) at the centre of asset management practice the Manual places emphasis on responding to cultural needs, particularly in relation to housing for Indigenous peoples.
  • Natural disasters. Tenants and housing assets are increasing vulnerable to natural disasters and the impact of climate change. The chapter discusses the types of risks, mitigation strategies and planning recovery. It highlights the increasing cost of and/or lack of availability of insurance and how this may be considered in strategic planning.
  • Headleasing of privately owned rental housing is a common non-owned asset strategy used in the sector and we provide greater elaboration of the issues for providers.
  • Commission and handover of buildings. Outlines the pre-mobilisation, mobilisation and post-mobilisation steps and tasks. The project is indebted to Rana Harvard (Housing Choices Australia) and Eris Fink (Launch Housing) for their assistance.

In addition to new content the Manual develops standard conceptualisations of asset management specifically for social housing as demonstrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Social housing asset management over the lifecycle.

Entirely new figures are also provided such as mapping systems boundaries in a fictional social housing provider as in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Mapping of social housing systems boundaries

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