CEHL is a unique model that can incorporate social housing in a wider housing programme – effectively a “co-operative of co-operatives”. The 111 separate rental housing co-operatives that form its members are supported by CEHL with asset management, finance and administrative support. This means that CEHL combines the best of both worlds – being responsive and accountable to the needs of individuals and local communities while providing the collective support and financial backing of a substantial and professional public service mutual. It also enables CEHL to respect the independence of individual co-operatives to make decisions which affect their co-operatives and actively engage them in decision making at both the strategy and operations level.
The housing owned by CEHL is many and diverse – it includes single dwelling housing for people of low incomes to include mixed housing tenure and multi-level developments.
Tenants come from all walks of life – including families, single parents, retirees, cultural and linguistically diverse groups and people with a disability. They take an active role in managing the day-to-day operations of the co-operative10. The inherent pathway to skills and employment leads to mixed incomes in the program so that it does not just focus on people with the highest need and lowest incomes.
The CEHL model differs to public and community housing, in that CEHL and its co-operative members actively engages and empowers members to take an active role in the management of their houses, developing their skills, self-esteem and sense of community16. This in turn creates benefits in terms of employment, well-being and financial sustainability6.
“We provide people with affordable housing, which means they have security of tenure and can participate in their communities. We don’t own our houses individually. Instead we’re providing stewardship for life13.”
Stephen Nash, Managing Director, CEHL
How the CEHL housing co-operatives work
There a wide spectrum of possible co-operative housing models, which all fundamentally involve tenant members in the governance of their housing. There are currently two co-operative models operating within the CEHL programme:
- Common Equity Rental Housing Co-operative – CERC
- Community Managed Co-operative – CMC model
All properties are owned by CEHL. The two co-operative models differ in the management of tenancy, finance and maintenance.
The Common Equity Rental Housing Co-operative Programme (CERC) is the main co-operative model at CEHL. The CERC is the landlord and manages the properties. The tenant members have responsibilities for key operational tasks including:
- financial administration, including paying rates, paying for insurance on properties, CERC administration costs and a levy to CEHL to cover finance and programme costs;
- collecting rent and following up any rent arrears;
- arranging house maintenance and manage funds for future replacement of items such as carpets and hot water services;
- selecting new tenant members;
- submitting quarterly financial reports to CEHL and keeping all associated records;
- most CERCs elect a treasurer, rents officer and finance committee to manage the day to day financial affairs.
In this model CEHL is responsible for:
- asset management;
- property upgrades;
- training and resourcing of the co-operatives;
- negotiating and servicing of loans;
- programme administration; and
- ensuring programme directives are met including reporting and compliance requirements.
“One-by-one we rotate. Over time with guidance and help the junior Board member becomes the senior”
Ambalavanar, Tamil Senior Citizens CERC (Common Equity Housing Limited 2014).
The Community Managed Co-operative (CMC) Model
The CMC model provides opportunity for a medium level of participation in the running of the co-operative. The CMCs do not act as landlords however they still have considerable say in day to day issues including:
- receives their own administration budget and may accumulate funds or obtain grants for special projects;
- prioritisation of maintenance;
- selecting new tenants;
- CMCs usually elect a treasurer who takes responsibility for managing bills, records and reports.
- collecting rent and following up any rent arrears;
- all property and tenancy expenses.
CEHL provides co-operative support co-coordinators who assist with:
- financial administration completing BAS returns, maintaining financial records and preparing for the annual audit;
- provide access to free computer software programs which provide rent statements for tenants, monthly financial reports, tracking maintenance expenditure on each individual property and rent calculators.
How is CEHL governed and regulated?
CEHL is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee under the Corporations Act – a structure chosen to bring a higher level of accountability and transparency over its financial management. This has built trust and confidence in CEHL as a financially viable and sustainable housing provider to Government and private investors.
Under a regulatory scheme established by the Victorian Government for non-profit housing organisations, CEHL is registered as a housing association. This is the category given to growth providers capable of operating at scale, leveraging private finance and undertaking property development. This requires it to comply with performance standards made under the regulatory scheme which relate to tenancy management, asset management, financial viability, community engagement, governance and management. Compliance is monitored by the Housing Registrar appointed to administer the scheme.
As CEHL takes primary responsibility for meeting regulatory and funding requirements, it must ensure that its member co-operatives in turn also manage their housing in a manner consistent with these obligations.
Over time CEHL has developed a unique governance structure which enables its member co-operatives and tenants members to be actively engaged in the strategic direction and day-to-day management of CEHL. This is summarised as follows.
The CEHL Board
The Board comprise 11 Directors of which five are elected by the member co-operatives at the CEHL Annual General Meeting and six are nominated by the Board and selected for their technical expertise.
The CEHL Board has established four committees – the Policy Advisory Committee, Finance & Risk Committee, People, Culture & Governance Committee and the Property Committee.
Regional Associations are forums which represent the interests of co-operatives that face challenges distinct to their communities. Eight regional associations exist. These associations provide a grouping of co-operatives in a particular area a forum to network and liaise on a number of matters of common interest. They can also provide useful support and advice for co-operatives and their members, and have a social element to their activities.
Co-operatives Board of Directors
Co-operatives are managed by a Board of Directors, elected by members. These Boards are responsible under co-operatives legislation for the management and administration of the co-operative. Co-operatives may adopt a model whereby all members are Directors, or decide to bring on board an independent Director to assist in the running of the co-operative. The level of responsibility for the day-to-day management of the co-operative depends on whether the CERC or CMC model is applied.
As well as the Board of Directors, Co-operatives may choose to have a number of sub-committees including Finance, Administration, House inspection, Maintenance, Policy adoption, Tenant selection and induction.
Establishing a CEHL member co-operative
The door is always open for CEHL to admit new member co-operatives. To become a CEHL member co-operative there are four key criteria which must be met10:
Membership: A demonstrated common bond amongst members such as geographical proximity, culture or philosophy. A procedure for membership selection and training on policies and procedures.
Co-operative principles: A demonstrated commitment to the principles and practice of co-operation. A management structure that is democratic and complies with the provisions of the co-operatives legislation including legal structure and arrangements for financial management. Decision-making processes which are democratic, effective, and accountable to their members.
Compliance: A demonstrated commitment to comply with the Performance Standards that apply to CEHL as a registered housing association under the Housing Act.
Business plan: Details of housing requirements and its plans for acquiring and managing properties and procedures for monitoring and evaluation of the group’s progress and development.
CEHL works with the co-operative to find vacancies within existing properties or developing and seeking financing for a new purpose built development.
CEHL has developed a range of on-line resources to assist individuals and groups to form a co-operative and seek entry into CEHL.