Recently we’ve had some frustrated tenants posting their frustrations on our Facebook posts and criticize our response to OCHT Facebook posts. These posts are often accompanied by naming both current and past staff from both council and the trust, something that has bothered me but I’ve let it lay mostly quietly.
Some folk pointed me at Tenancy Tribunal judgements, which was more than interesting, so tonight I thought I’d write some response to those call outs along with an update on some on going conversations I’ve had over the past year or so.
JUST SELL IT!
I’ve read calls to just sell the whole housing business to someone new a few times. I know how that game works and I also know it never ends well for the customers, mostly ends well for the sales folk and some times the investors, just ask rate payers about the million dollars spent to “not sell CityCare”.
As I’ve written in the past, I haven’t typically got involved in lobbying on such small projects as this. My experience and interest has been in the telecommunications industry where the companies are worth billions and have millions of customers. I’ve watched for decades as telcos buy and sell customers, build massive infrastructure, lure in new customers with hot deals then turn up the heat to drive ARPU as high as they can before either selling to a competitor, listing on the stock market or destroying the products with over subscription, leaving loyal customers who have build investment on top of networks to swim with the sharks.
SO I RANG BRUCE…
I rang Bruce Rendall at CCC because I recalled that we’ve had many conversations in New Zealand about selling public housing in the past and thought he’d have a better memory for it than I do, I was right…
2021-03-16 12:03 Bruce wrote:
“Yesterday you asked about the possibility of overseas ownership / operation of social housing.
This has been considered before (eg https://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/93889766/three-groups-shortlisted-take-over-social-housing-in-christchurch)
The council turned its mind to this matter in 2017. While it did not formally set a policy, the below extracts from an aborted public consultation process gives some ideas of the Council’s thinking in 2017:
A Christchurch community housing provider will bring local knowledge and experience to managing the properties and assisting the tenants. A local provider will bring greater understanding of the distinctive issues in the Christchurch social housing market resulting from the earthquakes and subsequent rebuild. They will have established relationships that will help achieve results more efficiently and quickly than a new entrant to Christchurch.”
FIRE THEM ALL!
If you know anything about employment law in this country there is nothing simple about letting people go.
I loved Donald Trump in the TV series the Apprentice. Who doesn’t just love the ‘idea’ of being the big man boss and being able to shout down a big board room table “You’re Fired”… bit of irony when the American public did just that at their last election, but we’re not in the US and civic housing isn’t a TV show, it’s a community with real people, some who live in the houses, others who’s jobs it has been to keep those homes in the best state as they can even if they’re not always the best people for the job in a constantly changing market place, in a city brought to its knees by a massive earthquake just 10 years ago.
A while ago, the mayor took me aside and commented that the housing unit wasn’t all that happy. Many had moved to OCHT, some had been left behind and many weren’t as happy as anyone would like.
GET NEW MANAGEMENT
As I said, employment law isn’t so simple as TV shows make it look, but one thing you can do is move the business around and let people make their own choices, and that’s exactly what’s happened.
Recently the ‘major maintenance’ moved from CCC to the trust for the property with the trust. I’m told that will mean that $5 million dollars of work will translate closer to $6 million dollars of value based on historic assumptions.
While the remaining civic staff were invited to apply for new roles in the trust, none did, effectively leaving 1 in the council dealing with social housing specifically.
Some of the structures are still a bit frustrating. Stephen comments that he has 5 points of contact depending on what he needs. I see both sides of this. Give the tenant a single point of contact and all they’re going to say most of the time is “Please hold caller while I check with …” while having 5 different departments means you some times bounce from place to place to get anything done. Personally I don’t know anything about the trusts IT systems but I suspect they have a problem with a poor job work flow, queuing and reporting system.
HOLD THEM TO ACCOUNT!
I was directed to Tenancy Tribunal judgements, so I had a little look. The TT don’t publish all it’s history only a two or three year snapshot, but it is searchable. When I looked, there were about 167 judgements published, so I haven’t read them all.
Before I get to the detail, I’d like to point out that the OCHT social media team invited me to attend a tenants briefing a while back where tenants were introduced to a range of agencies, including the TT. The trust has a vehicle so that tenants who have a dispute can get a resolution service to support them before they go to the TT and a service that will pay the $25 dollars it costs a tenant to go to the TT. I’ve never seen anyone in the private market get that level of support to take a case against them. That’s like ringing the guy you want to sue and asking them to pay for your lawyer and them saying “sure”.
I started with a few cases brought by the trust. The common theme in those was people who had skipped rent, though there were a few bizarre ones. In one case the tenant has been sent to prison and he was being chased for the cost of changing locks as he hadn’t been able to return every key, the trust lost that one.
I quickly moved on to the cases brought against the trust, after all, this was about holding them to account not chasing down tenants for unpaid rent. I think there were 12 cases out of 167, so it didn’t take to long to review those.
The most bizarre of those was a tenant, who won $200 in the judgement, after OCHT staff and a contractor entered their unit by mistake. That judgement would have cost the trust at least $5000 because the case had to be investigated which frankly would have been time consuming and expensive.
$200,000 TO COLLECT RENT… IS THAT WORTH IT?!
One theme that did show through from the TT judgements is that I suspect the trust is spending at least the cost of a new unit a year just chasing rents, and that’s before I consider the cost on the state for TT staff.
I didn’t do the math and compile a detailed list of payments from the judgements, nor have I bothered to ask the trust what it’s judgement recovery rates is.
What I did note was a common theme of two staff who appear to be camped at the TT offices each week.
On holding to account, this is an issue that I raised with board members. It’s just a false economy to chase some of these funds once the tenant has moved on, in some cases to jail.
It raises the question of just writing that debt off like so many private landlords do and investing energy in providing more quality housing at a lower cost.
My review of civic housing in this city is that it’s taken a massive change in the past 5 years to the overall benefits of tenants while not directly costing rate payers more, though also not making any return for their share in civic resources, though housing people who make end up costing our community more in other ways if we demanded more return.
Stephen’s campaign to get proper heating and cooling came across the line because he personally held the trust to account by telling his story in a very public space. He shared personal information about himself and his situation that many would not have. For his efforts thousands of people got $16 million dollars allocated.
Between Stephen and myself we held the council and trust to account to deliver that work, in spite of Covid 19 lock downs, that heating made it in place for last winter.
The suggestion that this portfolio should be sold is just silly. The idea has been canvased and the correct call has been made which is in both tenant and Christchurch interests.
Following the last civic election, the OCHT board has some extremely competent civic members on it right now, people who take our calls, who we can have very frank and blunt conversations with, without fear of being hung up on and blocked from communications.
Frankly I get better response from Bruce Rendall at CCC, Bob Hardie at OCHT and elected/appointed civic board members than I’ve ever seen in the telco sector. To suggest these guys aren’t open to being held to account is just silly, they are.
Finally, Stephen and I built this website, Mr Google shares it before it shares the trusts website. I get calls and emails from the police, corrections and others looking for tenants and support, we clearly have a voice, and if a broke tenant who was living in a car and a random member of the public can get a voice so can anyone who cares to put in a sensible effort.