Housing with heart

Public perception of the property industry paints a picture of old men in suits doing deals as though life is a game of Monopoly. A refreshing juxtaposition to that image comes in the form of Julia Saunders of CORT Community Housing.

Fresh out of a business degree in Australia, Julia landed on our shores for a GAP year with little idea of where her career would take her. She fell into property after securing a reception role at IHC, which allowed her to experience the many departments under the IHC umbrella while being mentored by the organisation. It turned out that property was her “thing” and she eventually found herself as a project manager within IHC’s Accessible Properties portfolio.

After 10 years with the organisation, she took a break to the UK, where her experience landed her a role with Sweett Group, a subsidiary of global asset management and construction consultancy Currie & Brown, where she delivered housing and public amenities in London. On return to New Zealand, Julia joined Community of Refuge Trust (CORT) Community Housing as their development manager alongside chief executive Peter Jeffries as a “very lean” development team.

2018 saw CORT commence 147 new properties in the Auckland region – essentially doubling their asset base in two years – with 43 completed and the remaining 104 due by the end of the year. It’s a big schedule for a small team. But given the organisation’s focus on continuous education and support for their high-needs tenants, it makes more sense to resource the tenancy team to ensure their developments remain long-term, sustainable communities. With only a very low churn rate, and an overall tenant satisfaction rating of 88%, the team are doing something right.

For Julia the best part of the job is the variety, saying “getting to manage projects from end to end, seeing the tenants move in and watching their lives change and their families flourish for the better is hugely rewarding. For many, having a good, healthy, warm home and stability of tenure is life changing”. 

The organisation puts emphasis on placing a diverse range of tenants in their properties to model a ‘normal’ Kiwi community.

“That way the tenants really support and help each other. We’ll have single parents with young families, those with mental health needs or physical disabilities, elderly couples, all sorts…they are guided on how to live in a community, how to be a good tenant and neighbour, and supported throughout the process” says Julia.

CORT’s biggest challenge is funding, with funding models changing typically every three years, leaving the organisation at the mercy of government policy. Perhaps surprisingly, the organisation has been threatened recently by signals that the Government may fund community housing through private ownership, effectively undermining the very definition of housing owned by the community, for the community. 

Julia is hopeful that the organisation’s strategic use of recent funding, that allowed increased capacity and a steady stream of new developments that added value to the community will be enough to maintain the status quo, if not allow for further resource. 

Her dream is that the property industry understands the value of community housing, how it differs from private or state housing and supports growing Auckland in a positive way. 

“We’d like to see the property industry coming on board and supporting us to grow the understanding of housing as a keystone of the city.”

“When everybody has access to good housing, other things follow – improved health, improved education and efficiency in the economy – it helps everybody. No one benefits when people struggle, when kids are unwell because of poor housing, this really is a win-win.”

Passion, determination and a love of helping others - now that’s housing with heart.

What is Community Housing?

The Community Housing sector provides an alternative to the state housing provided by Housing New Zealand and private housing in the open market. As a proven model to develop and manage affordable housing options, the Community Housing sector offers flexible, responsive and cost-effective housing which deliver better social outcomes for its tenants. The sector is made up of a range of providers who tailor their approach for the needs of the people they work with. To do this they may offer a range of emergency housing, affordable rental, wrap-around services or home ownership assistance. This mix of housing solutions supports a healthy and effective Housing Continuum; a model of the housing market which offers Auckland a sustainable pathway out of the current housing crisis.

About CORT

CORT Community Housing (Community of Refuge Trust) is a registered community housing provider founded in 1987 which offers homes for people on very low incomes in Auckland. They are a non-government, not-for-profit community organisation and a registered charitable trust that employs 11 staff and provides rental accommodation to over 260 tenants, managing and owning over 240 properties across the city.

Find out more at www.cort.org.nz

Author | Kelly Taylor

Originally joining Property Council as South Island Branch Manager in 2015 before moving into the Member Communications role in 2018 and being promoted to Head of Communications in 2019, Kelly has an excellent overview of the organisation, our membership and how all of the moving parts work together.

Ruthlessly organised, meticulously detailed and a lover of words, Kelly's role is to tell Property Council's story by promoting our advocacy workstreams, publications and event offerings to our members. She takes the complex and makes it simple, opens doors for member engagement and positions us as approachable, credible and influential.

Based in Christchurch but regularly found wandering the halls of our Auckland office, she loves nothing more than getting to tell our member's stories.

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