The year that was: reflections from City West Housing

CWH team innovates at pace to deliver 174 new affordable homes during the pandemic

When COVID-19 hit, the City West Housing (CWH) team was on track to complete delivery of 174 affordable new apartments in two separate developments – the Blackwattle apartment building (completed in March) and the Ironbark apartment building (completed in June), increasing the CWH portfolio by 25%. In the middle of a pandemic, the team not only completed those developments but tenanted them safely and rapidly, while also keeping a focus on all other aspects of service delivery, and simultaneously navigating working from home and finding and signing a lease to move into much needed new office premises.

These achievements were the result of a true team effort, with every part of CWH pulling together and going above and beyond to ensure desperately needed housing was delivered on time, despite the extraordinary circumstances, while continuing our duty of care to all of our existing residents – and our people.

True team effort to deliver new homes during COVID-19

The dedicated Development Team delivered the Blackwattle building in March and the Ironbark development in June, working throughout lockdown with contractors to keep the buildings on track while complying with all health and safety requirements.

Supported by the Program and Change Manager, the passionate Housing Services team adapted and innovated at pace to manage apartment viewings, sign ups and move ins during COVID-19. Staff did this face to face for the Blackwattle development in March, trying to manage with social distancing, staggering sign ups and move ins and organising additional cleaning of common areas, in particular doors and lifts. They also implemented additional cleaning of common areas. Despite the challenges in the Blackwattle building they reached 85% occupancy just four weeks after completion and 100% occupancy within eight weeks.

In advance of completing the Ironbark apartments and to ensure the health and safety of staff and residents, they automated their apartment viewing and sign up processes at rapid speed, creating virtual scans of buildings for applicants to view and creating an electronic sign up process. In the Ironbark development, they reached 70% occupancy within six weeks and 100% occupancy within ten weeks. This is despite record vacancies occurring in inner Sydney market apartments and heavy discounting of rents by private landlords, again due to COVID-19.

To assist new residents with move ins for both buildings the Development Team leveraged their partnership with GoGet car share and arranged for moving vans to be located at each new development during the move in period while the Asset Team did an amazing job taking on responsibility for the Defects Liability Period with both builders and the maintenance of 174 new apartments.

In response to the pandemic, the creative Community Engagement team organised the communications for all the residents to keep them informed of what was happening, and co-ordinated the tricky distribution of welcome packs. The team also partnered with the Valiant property styling company, enabling them to furnish a number of apartments for new residents with few possessions, by re-purposing pre-loved display furniture – a highly challenging endeavour given social distancing restrictions, but totally worth it. One new resident said, “I just feel so lucky, I feel like I’ve finally been given the fresh start I’ve dreamed about.” 

The brilliant Finance Team and Operations Support Team were key to helping navigate how to do business online. The Finance Team also temporarily restructured to process more than 150 resident initiated rent reviews, triggered by a change in their household income as a direct result of COVID-19 – in a year that had already required more than 1,000 rent reviews. As residents moved in to these new developments, in particular the Blackwattle apartments when the impacts of COVID -19 were first starting to be felt, a number of them had lost their job and CWH were able to adjust their rent to accommodate their change in circumstances.

The ability to support their residents to stay in their homes and to continue to pay rent based on changing household circumstances is an important part of CWH’s value proposition.  As one of their new residents in the Blackwattle apartments stated, “I am so grateful every single day, more so now in our current climate, that if anything happens to my job, City West Housing has my back…you cannot imagine how much weight and stress that takes off me, after having gone through my homeless journey.” 

*Originally featured in the PowerHousing newsletter Powerful Housing: January 2021

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