Vertical village strategic futures

Vertical village strategic futures

By Dr Janette Corcoran - Apartment Living Expert

As from December 1, 2021, owners’ corporations (OCs) with 50 or more lots must have an approved and funded maintenance plan – but is this sufficient for vertical village planning?

Many vertical villages in the City of Melbourne have long had maintenance plans, which identified major capital items due for repair or replacement and their estimated costs – so this requirement for an approved and funded maintenance plan brings no real change.

But what this requirement has sparked in some OCs is a deeper discussion about planning, with the gist being that while a funded maintenance plan is undoubtedly needed, it is far from sufficient. This is because OCs control assets (our apartment buildings) valued in the hundreds of millions, with associated decisions affecting the daily lives of hundreds of residents.

So, while it is well and good to have a plan to repair or replace capital items over the next decade, there are critical questions about a vertical village’s future which remain unattended or, at least, not often formally captured. These questions go to what sort of vertical village yours should become. Should you aim to differentiate your vertical village as environmentally sustainable?

This would mean that suites of activities, such as electric vehicle recharging, would likely become a priority. Or perhaps your focus is upon financial management, meaning that there will be priority given to information systems, detailed monitoring and reporting, and aggressive sector scanning for comparisons.

What is needed is identification of owners’ and residents’ values, and when translated, this should guide OCs in determining overarching priorities and approaches. In other sectors, this information is captured and integrated in a strategic plan, which explicitly states where an organisation wants to be and defines the strategies to get there. It requires articulating a vision and the underpinning goals and developing approaches to achieve these.

Strategic planning is a well-established process and there is a mountain of material to guide businesses and, more recently, not-for-profits. Regrettably, there is little assistance tailored to OCs, which are very different entities (with a distinct ethos) than are businesses or even not-for-profit service providers. This means that, for those OCs wishing to undertake such forward planning, they will likely need to develop their own approaches.

This could see each OC inventing and reinventing their own strategic planning process, including designing a method to engage owner-residents in the process – without “opening Pandora’s Box”! And it must be noted that while OC volunteer committee members are often highly skilled, strategic planning facilitation and design is not everyone’s strong suite.

On the flipside, however, our vertical living sector offers great scope for collaboration. As we are not competing businesses, there is wonderful opportunity for OCs to work together on devising approaches to strategic planning suited to our context – as well as opportunity to share insights on different approaches to common challenges. What this could manifest is, that rather than each OC being a silo strategic planner, the leveraging of our community status.

For the doubters, this willingness to share between OCs was demonstrated during COVID-19, where many committee members reached out to other OCs to ask questions about approaches to public health orders. Frank discussions were had comparing directions taken in different apartment buildings – How are you handling closing gyms? What is your messaging? Extra security? etc.

In fact, it was a direct result of these informal discussions between OCs in Docklands that saw a webinar hosted by the Docklands Representative Group (DRG) on (the ironically titled) “Coming out of COVID for OCs”. This featured strata lawyer Tom Bacon, and representatives from the Department of Justice and Community Safety who answered questions raised by OCs on managing high-rise residences during COVID-19.

What is also significant is that informal discussions between different OCs continue, now expanding to issues like insurance renewals (excess for windows?), engaging new OC managers (tendering tips) and cladding (help!). However, while these individual conversations are undoubtedly useful, what is becoming apparent is that more is needed. More both in terms of how many more OC committee members wish to engage in these sorts of exchanges, and more in terms of the depth of information and assistance available – because while it is great to share between ourselves, some situations require external expertise (such as approaches to cladding replacements).

So here is the thing. Our volunteer OC committees are responsible for significant assets and sizeable communities. We all face very similar challenges and currently there is little guidance for planning the future of our vertical villages or scope for sharing insights to common challenges. But there are moves afoot – with interest growing for a forum which could bring together collegial interactions mixed with expert guidance • If such a forum piques your interest, please drop me an email at [email protected]

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