At the Pulse Meeting on 13 March attendees were introduced to a presentation from Iain Shields, the founder of Hygge Community Life (Hygge) and their Hygge Home Hub.
Quitting his job nine months ago with Community Housing Limited, Iain decided to start "putting my money where my mouth was", to register his company and develop a business strategy and plan. His aim was to target significant problems within WA’s Social and Affordable Housing Systems…people who need access to their housing options and the underutilisation of homes.
Concluded through Iain’s understanding of the market, and the ABS statistics, 1 in 6 social housing homes remain underutilised, that’s over 72,100 properties around Australia. This is a problem he can see being fixed, with the outcomes including: reduced waiting times for housing, more accessible housing, and an increase in landlords’ bottom lines through a range of efficiencies and improvements.
So, how do you do it?
Using technology to create a centralised Hygge Home Hub, you put control into the hands of a person trying to find a house, Iain calls it “housing mobility”, a bit like reiwa.com.au but for social housing.
Iain is indeed collaborating with REIWA in WA stating, “For private rentals, we can get onto an app and we can find places to browse immediately,” says Iain. “Why then for people who need emergency housing is the process of accessing their housing options so difficult?”
The introduction of greater choice could substantially improve the effectiveness of social housing. For instance, through the current waiting list process people aren’t given access to their housing options, let alone the local community and its environment. Iain states that Hygge is merely providing equality of choice and control for the social housing system, hoping that it provides equity to all people over their home life.
According to the Rethink Social Housing website there are 13,953 people on the waitlist and an additional 1,318 on a priority waitlist in Western Australia as at 1 March 2018. Iain estimates a person may wait 7 or 8 years to secure their social housing property. If you are lucky enough to get onto the waitlist - the income limits policy hasn’t been changed for 10 years and therefore people on an aged or disability pension aren’t eligible. The issue of eligibility as managed by the Governments waitlist policy framework is a further issue that adds to other housing crises including WA’s affordable housing crises.
It is a shocking predicament which leaves an individual feeling at the mercy of a system. Giving someone the ability to find housing by themselves will be challenging, but Iain is not on his own in this venture. As well as everyday people who have lived experience of housing stress and poverty acting as ambassadors, the Hygge Board of Directors have been strategically chosen to form a governance group who have worked in the housing sector, community services sector, state and federal politics, community banking sector, information and technology sectors, who understand how to affect and navigate systemic change.
With these contacts and expertise Iain is imminently about to launch Australia’s first social and affordable housing advertising service. As well as creating a centralised social and affordable housing marketplace, Iain is also leading Hygge and its partners to develop and trial WA’s first Housing Needs Register, which he hopes will transition away from the inefficient siloed waitlists.
The Housing Needs Register will be centralised and independently managed, “our co-production workshops with people and sector professionals have all expressed a clear message, it has to be independent, trustworthy, and keeps everyone on track to meet the communities needs”. It is envisaged the Register should sit away from Community Housing Providers and be outside of Government, a brand that connects with people and helps people find and sustain a sense of belonging in their homes and communities.
“We initially wanted to kickstart a conversation about should it sit with an independently managed service so it can’t be subject to existing policy frameworks,” said Iain.
Housing needs data and supply is where the Register fits in.
“The data for the Register will be collected in real-time from both people and from landlords, and the service will be co-designed. Data is a very sensitive thing, we need to pride ourselves on the collection and management of data,” said Iain. “It is a priority and it needs to be collected safely and securely. Once we’ve gone through a co-design process on the collection of data, and those safeguards are in place then we open the Register.”
The Register creates housing mobility by allowing a person to jump on and input their current situation. By providing details on their background and where they are looking to live, that data is collected for matching by the register. Participants can also go a step further and look directly at what homes are immediately available. The Register utilises live and real-time data to understand housing need and supply and can create a responsive marketplace. This is great for individuals, but the data collected can be used further.
“It allows us to think about co-designed future services,” explains Iain. “If we know there are a certain amount of people in a certain area, who need certain types of housing and certain types of community services it informs our strategic planning around community service design and development but also funding.
“It starts to reform how we think about homelessness, housing and also community services.” The Home Hub is closely linked and connected to WACOSS owned and managed ER Connect, WA’s centralised hub for the directory of emergency relief services. “As well as alleviating housing stress and poverty through the Home Hub, Hygge connects you to ER Connect for WA specific networks of financial counselling, food and material relief etc’”
The Register also provides a solution for landlords by allowing them to advertise their properties, creating a quick and simple way for people and landlords to connect over housing need and supply.
Speaking to different sectors (NFP/NGO), Government, and the Private Sector, Iain continues to develop ways to reduce housing stress, poverty and underutilisation. In the not too distant future, we may only look to our phones to help someone who is homeless or in need of emergency housing.
You can email Iain at: firstname.lastname@example.org