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Delivering homes and creating communities

As the conversation about the delivery of social and affordable housing across the country dominates almost every news outlet, one could be forgiven for forgetting that for approved housing bodies (AHBs), the delivery of quality social homes is just one part of their mission. Director of Operational Performance Caroline Casserly  discusses Oaklee Housing’s comprehensive contribution throughout the pandemic.

As with all AHBs, Oaklee Housing is not politically motivated. We are a not-for-profit organisation with a social purpose. Our aim is to work collaboratively with our partners and stakeholders to deliver high quality social housing and provide exceptional services to our tenants. Our housing by its very nature as a AHB is affordable. 

Oaklee relies on, and indeed contributes to, the continued and sustained delivery of new homes, as has been expertly articulated by the many commentators and journalists debating the Government’s Housing for All strategy document. 

However, it is important to remember that for AHBs such as Oaklee Housing, once new homes are delivered and passed from the development team to operations team our attention shifts from developers to property and tenant managers in pursuit of building communities.

For Caroline Casserly, the recently appointed Director of Operational Performance, Covid-19 presented both its challenges and its opportunities. Taking up her position in the middle of a pandemic whilst overseeing a comprehensive restructuring of her new team has been no mean feat. To deliver Oaklee’s goal of exceptional customer services, resources have been bolstered and the skills required to deliver outstanding services to tenants have been sourced.

Responsibilities pre- and post-tenant nomination and allocation are specified and understood while cross departmental collaboration and communication has been sharpened. A full audit of contractor performance has taken place across property maintenance as well as our health and safety regimes and strong benchmarks have been established. 

The result is a finely tuned operation, split between housing and property services with the tenant central to what they do. Processes and procedures have been reviewed and recrafted for the ultimate benefit of Oaklee tenant. 

“This has been an exceptionally tough year for everyone in Oaklee,” says Casserly, adding: “We pulled ourselves apart and rebuilt the team from the bottom up. I am very proud of what we have achieved and look forward to seeing the fruits of our efforts in the coming months and years.”

Working closely with the local authority, Oaklee Housing’s dedicated Housing & Property Services teams assist the nominated tenants to take up residence and so the new house becomes a new home.

For many this could be their first home. It could be the home that takes them from the uncertainty of temporary accommodation, or the home that takes them from danger of living on the streets. These are the people behind the reports that have dominated the news channels in recent months.

Oaklee Housing has a presence across 18 counties in the Republic, with a mix of general needs houses and apartments, schemes for the elderly as well as sheltered accommodation, Part V, mortgage-to-rent and co-living properties. Some of these properties are over 20 years old. And while the spotlight shines on new homes, Casserly believes that the portfolio of existing homes and the on-going maintenance and improvements required for their upkeep should not be lost in the conversation. The responsibility for which, once in Oaklee’s management, regardless of who delivered them, remains with the AHB. 

“Specific feedback coming from our Tenant Forum is that existing Oaklee Housing tenants are supportive of our unrelenting goal to deliver more homes. However, this is conditional on the fact that our continued growth is not at the expense of our existing tenant cohort,” Casserly explains.

With this in mind, a specific and separate budget has been ringfenced by Oaklee for ongoing planned maintenance and neighbourhood improvements across their portfolio of existing properties. These works include fire remediation, home improvements, the upgrading of common areas as well as painting, fencing, replanting, and lighting of green spaces within their schemes.

“Our entire tenant group is important to us, new and old. It is essential that this position is reflected in the work that we do. We need to invest as much time and effort in the homes that we already own and manage as we do in the new properties we plan to build and acquire,” the Director of Operational Performance outlines.

This is a position reflected in the Oaklee Housing 3-year corporate strategy which includes the ‘Invest Wisely’ approach as one of the five key pillars upon which the strategy is founded.

Despite Covid-19, Oaklee added an additional 547 homes into its management, including 329 coming from Social Housing PPP Bundle 1 of which they are a partner in the consortium.

Internally, the housing team was briefed, and processes adapted to make sure that having finally been offered a new home, tenants could move in safely and within the parameters of the government guidelines and restrictions. With nothing like this event to benchmark against, the opportunity was taken to put in place fresh systems and innovations from scratch, many of which will remain in place post-Covid.

Community Fun Day, County Louth

“For all AHBs, not just Oaklee Housing, what we do is more than delivering homes, and more again than placing people in homes. It’s about enabling and supporting our residents to create a sustainable community.”
Caroline Casserly, Director of Operational Performance, Oaklee Housing

“For all AHBs, not just Oaklee Housing, what we do is more than delivering homes, and more again than placing people in homes. It’s about enabling and supporting our residents to create a sustainable community, one in which the tenant can integrate quickly and safely with long-term security of tenure on their side,” Casserly asserts.

For Oaklee, effective communication is part of that journey. 

“The Covid crisis has been challenging,” she says, adding: “But the express communications revolution was remarkable. Overnight, our staff, tenants, friends and families, all had to learn how to stay connected digitally. This is something we will incorporate into our digital communications strategy once lockdown ends and the pandemic passes.” 

The success and participation levels by tenants has meant that plans to integrate SMS, web communications, digital noticeboards, online tenant training, online community meetings, online tenant portal and payment platforms into day-to-day tenant engagement are well underway.

Whilst the belief is that this should not replace human contact in the long-term, it has served to help reach out to tenants safely and quickly. Being so accessible to so many, it has allowed people to connect from the safety and comfort of their home.

“That’s the key for us,” remarks Casserly, concluding: “What works for our tenants, works for us. The emphasis on maintaining services for the benefit of our current and future tenant group is as important as delivering the homes in which they will live.”

Siobháin Bunni, Head of Communications & PR
T: +353 (0) 86 194 2397