Interview: Kim Sinclair, CEO of CHC - Part II
This is Part II of our interview with Kim Sinclair. Click here to read Part I.
Why is CHC different to other property developers?
There can be a lot of emotion in the space we work. Many of the clients are highly distressed and really struggling. For us, that presents a great opportunity to make a positive impact, but the early stages of engagement can be very intense.
We’ve just created a decompression room in the office, so that staff can take some time to lie down or jump on an exercise bike and process the issues they have faced that day. Housing stress is an issue across all demographics – especially given the high cost of housing – which means that some of our clients can experience emotions that my team need to be equipped to deal with. As the CEO, it’s important to ensure that the staff feel as though they have every kind of support available.
What CHC does for Canberra is incredibly important. That means I have a great responsibility to ensure that we are continually on the pulse and looking for where the greatest need is in our community and the role that CHC play in providing solutions.
While our mission will always be to provide affordable rental accommodation and specialty housing programs, we develop for sale, to fund our programs and also to contribute to progressing our city through the creation of more diverse housing opportunities.
Our up and coming development in Downer really hits the spot in this respect. We are the developer of homes for sale but we are also providing disability housing, independent seniors living and will retain properties for rental accommodation. This site is our elixir and showcases how important it is for an organisation like ours to not only exist but to be driving new ways to solve our housing challenges.
We are driven by being part of the best Canberra we can be. The whole time I’ve been in Canberra there is no doubt that this is an incredibly friendly city – and one that is perfect for families. What I want to do is ensure that it is as inclusive as it is friendly – that everyone can participate in what we love about this place. I guess that is a lot of what is what motivates us as a company.
How would you describe CHC?
We have a very unique and valuable role.
Clearly, we are a community housing provider but also a development company, but as to what we build… there’s a need to be flexible.
Our development pipeline now has us very well placed to manage the housing lifecycle and we are making this our focus. We plan ahead for the need that we can see in the future but we are also very responsive.
In the same respect, we may see an immediate need for crisis accommodation or disability services… we are perfectly positioned to quickly meet those needs, and tailor our developments that are under construction or nearing completion to suit the community’s requirements.
Now we are watching the general affordability of housing. Prices continue to rise, but wages have been stagnant for several years. That’s putting even more stress on those who would normally find managing a mortgage or rent to be a challenge.
On top of those, if interest rates rise a couple of points we could see mortgages go to the wall in increasing numbers and we are always mindful of what is around the corner.
How do you sell property and ensure it goes to the right client and not an investor?
This is really tricky. If we sell to clients at a reduced price then it creates an artificial market. That’s something we don’t want to do (for several reasons).
We offer programs that are already available to us, such as the ACT Government’s Land Rent Scheme and ensure they really are a solution for our buyers. In our recent release at Moncrieff, we recognised that the Land Rent Scheme was a great opportunity but still presented challenges and hurdles around first home buyers managing the construction process themselves but also trying to afford land rent payments while their home was under construction. We have taken those hurdles away by managing the building process and ensuring land rent only starts upon completion of their home.
Moncrieff is a wonderful success story – six of our own tenants have purchased which not only means they have reached the pinnacle of home ownership but we can open up six new tenancies to those in need and the lifecycle starts again – we’re very proud of this.
We are continually trying to innovate with our products for rent and sale. One strategy we’re looking at is the viability of building micro-units in the town centres. If you’re a hairdresser or a bartender, the best you can hope for is about $800 per week in your pocket. The cheapest one-bedroom apartment you can find in the city is about $450 per week - that pushes these workers out to the suburbs.
What if there was simple, small accommodation nearby that eliminated the need to travel to work? That could be a game-changer for someone that knocks off in the early hours of the morning. We’re looking at all these ideas… and it’s another example of how affordable housing can take many different forms.
The last two census have shown an alarming increase of homelessness. How can we tackle this?
That’s a question we ask ourselves every day. I think that Canberra runs as its own two-speed economy. There are well-paid people in the private and public sectors, but there is an increasingly large group of teachers, nurses, childcare workers, etc. that have little opportunity to lift their income to match the cost of living.
If interest rates jump even a couple of per cent, these people could become extremely vulnerable.
This is a constant focus and everything we do is with the intention of decreasing homelessness. Our solution is to increase our rental portfolio where we can to get as many properties on the ground to address this need.
This good work must be a challenge. The outcomes aren’t always the what you might have hoped for…
True, the daily reality we confront is quite different to what people might assume.
People can generalise homelessness as being an issue that affects mostly men. At CHC, what we’re seeing is an increase in family homelessness. A mother might be living out of a car with her kids and there’s nowhere else to go…. the father might be present, or he might not – and vice versa.
We recently met with our community networks and were advised that there are ten families in similar circumstances looking for appropriate accommodation. Sadly, we can’t build accommodation fast enough to help them, so there needs to be a coordinated effort across several agencies to find a roof over their head.
And if you can’t help them?
Well, those families in cars are a challenge, but are usually a little less complex than others that are really struggling to exist in society. Just last week we had an issue where our inspection team had to call Care & Protection[NC|FM2] because the family just wasn’t coping. Those moments really get me.
At this point Kim searches her bag for a tissue, clearly moved by the challenges of the last few days.
(through tears) One time we had to evict a family and I remember walking in and seeing all the toys that had just been left behind. We did everything we could to help that family. Absolutely everything… We do our best.
…but we couldn’t help… and it tears me apart to think of what those kids have ahead of them… and the fact that we had to admit defeat. These are humans, they are people… not just tenants.
And when you can help them?
Well, that’s what motivates us. We’ve got eight people today that are looking at buying property in Moncrieff through the assistance of CHC. They were rental tenants under our schemes, and we’ve brought them through to the point that they are ready to buy their own home where their family can thrive and be happy.
And that makes everything we do worthwhile.