An interview with Paul Tommasini, CEO of inCommunity
A homeless case - the background story to the Tenancy Skills Institute
Twelve months ago, Tina*, an Ipswich mother in her early 20s, was couch surfing while she waited for placement in a domestic violence refuge. She’d been evicted from her rental home due to multiple breaches of her tenancy agreement. Her future was looking bleak.
But, after a period in the refuge, while in transitional accommodation, Tina began a course at the newly-established Tenancy Skills Institute.
Run by inCommunity, the course teaches tenancy skills to the homeless and “almost homeless”, even to those who’ve previously been refused their bond back or are named on a Tenant Black List. The training taught Tina communication skills, her rights and responsibilities, how to maintain and clean a rental property, and how to budget and finance. It taught her how to talk with her property manager when things weren’t going well.
When Tina exited the transitional property into the private rental market, the property manager said her exit clean was the best they’d seen. She's now living with a new partner (and their combined 6 children) and has been in the private rental for six months with perfect inspections and no breaches.
Paul Tommasini is the CEO of InCommunity, and began the Tenancy Skills Institute.
Why did you start Tenancy Skills Institute?
At the beginning of 2017 we started the Tenancy Skills Institute. We had been supporting homeless people for over 35 years, and were still seeing the same issues, particularly in people exiting the homelessness system. It was clear that the strategies that we (and the sector) were using were only addressing part of the problem (however still very valuable to the people receiving the support).
We spoke with Real Estate agents who told us about the most common causes of failed tenancies. Using this information, we worked with a group of agents to develop a competency-based training program for tenants. It covers the main areas that property managers and agents told us were the causes of failed tenancies. Working with the real estate sector we have developed a product that creates opportunities for people to enter the private market and increases their chances of sustaining their tenancy.
Tell us about the course and what certificate they receive.
The course takes a minimum of 10 hours to complete. It includes assessments and students must demonstrate competency before they are awarded their certificate. This training is modelled similar TAFE training, with the real estate sector being our ‘quality’ judges.
Tell us about the impact of global thought leader Simon Sinek on your work.
I was first introduced to Simon Sinek’s work in about 2012, when I was at a governance conference. The presenter played Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’ TED talk. This was the first time that I had heard someone talk so clearly about the things that I was starting to see in my own organisation! Our organisation grew a bit more, but at the same time we started to diversify. We restructured our whole organisation, changed the name, and continued to develop and simplify our ‘Why.’
You had the videos and books, why then did you fly to The Growth Faculty event to see Simon Sinek in Sydney?
I was inspired by what I was hearing and reading, so when the opportunity came up to see him live in Sydney I jumped at the chance. I was quite busy at the time, so I decided to fly in from Brisbane in the morning and come back that evening, meaning that I had to wake up at 2am in the morning and had a 17 hour day – but it was worth it. Like anything in life, the live event is usually a better experience. In my office I would watch or listen to his TED talk alone or with a couple of others. In Sydney I shared the experience with 2500 people, all there to be inspired – there is a huge difference!
How did you workshop finding your Why?
We had already done a bit of this, however I learnt more about it in the session with Peter Docker. When I returned, we further workshopped this with the team, particularly during strategic planning.
Our original ‘why’ statement was quite clunky – ‘we believe that people can, and we walk alongside them in their journey while they develop the skills to live happy, healthy and independent lives’ – it was a starting point, and while far from complete, it did bring everyone together with a common sense or purpose.
For those who don’t know what “your Why” is, can you explain?
Finding your Why is about exploring and articulating what drives you - why you wake up every day. It is that true sense of purpose.
So, what is now your Why?
At inCommunity, we inspire people to believe that they can! – wording may not be 100% yet, but it has united our team around a common Why.
How have real estate agents responded to the Tenancy Skills Institute?
We have been very pleased with the response from real estate agents so far. In our trial locations of Ipswich, Logan and Toowoomba there has been a lot of support. We already have 10 agencies who have signed on as partners and endorsed the training. This gives graduates better access to agents who manage tens of thousands of properties (combined). We have many more agencies who are supportive of the Tenancy Skills Institute who we are hoping will sign on as partners in the future.
What difference has Tenancy Skills Institute made to these young people?
For tenants it gives them the skills and knowledge for successful tenancies, and for property managers it gives them tenants who have the skills that they want. It is win-win for everyone involved.
Is it just young people? Who else accesses Tenancy Skills Institute?
This training is designed for people of all ages. It is ideal for people with no tenancy history and also people who are wanting to improve their skills as a tenant (including those that are at risk of losing their tenancy)
What are the plans for expansion?
We have received funding from the Queensland Government under the Dollars and Sense initiative to deliver the training in three trial locations (Ipswich, Logan and Toowoomba). We are hopeful that this will lead to a state wide roll out of the program in Queensland.
What about the rest of Australia?
We are keen to see this delivered all around Australia, and are starting discussions with potential partners in other states. We are always keen to hear from people who would like to get involved or would like to see this in their region.
Any plans for international?
Not at this stage.
How will you fund past the trial stage?
The first 12 months of this project was self-funded, from our organisations savings. We are currently in discussions with funding partners and sponsors for the continuation of the program past the end of the Queensland Government funded trial. We are confident that we will be able to secure longer term support for the project as we are seeing great results. We are however still happy to hear from anyone who would like to support us.
What difference could it make to Australian society?
Better tenancies mean less failed tenancies. In the short term this means less people entering the homelessness system, and those that do being able to exit quicker and with less support needed. It also means the Property Management industry and Property Investors will get better outcomes, which will lead to them being more willing to keep renting to our graduates.
In the longer term we believe that it will have a greater impact on communities as we are teaching people communication skills, how to get along with neighbours, how to clean and maintain their property and how to better manage their money.
What is the rest of the work by inCommunity?
inCommunity also provides homelessness support to young people and young families as well as sector development in the Child and Family space. Our homelessness programs have an average 97.5% engagement rate. Each year we work with approx. 175% of the number of clients that we are funded to work with, and approx. 75% of our clients have resolved their homelessness during the time that we are supporting them.
Your biggest challenge is time – have you got any tips you can share in being as productive as you are?
I have a good team around me and together we have built a great culture.
- For things to change, first things must change!
- As goes culture, so goes people.
- You can’t just focus on one aspect – everything fits together and leads to the outcomes.
- There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’ – it is just ‘us’.
- Consultants are good for many things, but building a culture is not one of them – that is the job of the leader.
- Make time for your team to bond – a couple of times a year we close for a day and go and do something together (usually involves sailing or water activities). This is not about ‘team building activities’ rather it is a time for people to connect, understand each other and develop a greater sense of connection as a team.
Anything else you’d like to add about inCommunity or the team you lead?
When Simon Sinek released the book Together is Better I purchased a copy for our team. I put in the message; ‘Read – Reflect – Write… Share your inspirations, thoughts, ideas. Highlight, underline, draw, write – anywhere throughout this book. Enjoy and be inspired!’ This has become our team book and has been shared amongst our staff and is given to all new staff to read as part of their induction.
Thanks so much for your valuable time, and best of luck with your exciting journey.
My pleasure, and anyone interested to learn more can go to http://www.tenancyskills.com.au/
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