Welcome to Week 32 of 40 Stories in 40 Weeks

Welcome to Week 32 of 40 Stories in 40 Weeks.  This week we return to our History co-authored by Sarah Harris and Don Baker and meet yet another long-serving staff member Mario Roccisano.  The Director, Housing Program Acquisition & Development, Mario, has been working with us for more than 20 years, over which time he’s witnessed the expansion of our property portfolio of affordable rental housing.
“A lot of people who work in administration roles have never had that genuine client contact experience,” Mario Roccisano observes.  He is not one of them. The HHS PDM first started as a part-time transitional housing officer with the Mildura office, having previously worked with Community Services Victoria before taking a redundancy package to work at the family winery. Then farming went bad and viticulture’s loss was the not-for-profit sector’s gain.
“I feel like I have an understanding at the micro and now that I’m at the macro I think it is a good thing for me personally in terms of the decisions I make. It’s not rocket science to understand that for someone to walk in your door when you are a welfare agency and ask for help is a big thing. You may see some people swagger in and not have that level of shame or humiliation and they seem very comfortable, but at the end of the day how good has their life been that they have got to that point?
“I am sure it is not the life people would choose for themselves, although you can make all these judgments about how their actions led them there and how their lack of action keeps them there. The reality is all of us – the people on the other side of the fence who are employed and have our own homes – have done things we are not proud of. We have all made bad decisions. It is just that the consequences haven’t been sheeted home quite as much as they have for other people.
“We always judge people – that is just a human trait. But do you or should you allow that to impact on the delivery of service to the client? No. The difference between our business back when I started and now is that back then all the tenants were the so-called ‘down and outers’ – the ones who didn’t have a roof. We still have those, but now we also have people who are there because our rent is cheaper. That is what our business model needs. It needs those people who can pay a little more.
“I believe in the model. I believe in Community Housing as a better outcome for people and communities than a bureaucracy delivers. We have gone from very small numbers, maybe 150 houses, to over 1000 very quickly.  We have come from a background of having no long-term rental stock to providing affordable housing for rent as opposed to a service response.
“To put that on the micro level, how good is it to be able say to Jim and Dora, who are 70-plus years old and have never lived in much more than a shack their whole life, here is a brand new home that is heated and cooled and has a garage. It’s like that little story about picking up a starfish on the beach and throwing it back. You know you can’t save them all, but you made a difference to that one.
“Even now, when we are in a period of uncertainty, it is incomprehensible to think that so much money has been invested in housing associations to let them die. We will go through a period of pain before we get back into the sunshine, but I think the model has proven itself. The private sector has never done well when it comes to social outcomes. I think there will always be a role for not-for-profits and probably a bigger role.”