Member Profile: Kathleen Gregory
Kathleen Gregory has worked in the housing sector for more than 20 years.
She is Chief Executive Officer of Foundation Housing a Shelter WA Board Member, on the Steering Committee for the Western Australian Alliance to End Homelessness and is Chair of the Western Australian Council on Homelessness. In 2016 she was awarded an Order of Australia Medal as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honour Awards for her work in the not-for-profit housing sector.
| By Royceton Hardey
From a very early age Kathleen Gregory felt the need for society to have a level playing field. She could see a growing disparity in society and while she cannot identify a singular event as the cause for this realisation the subject of her privileged upbringing comes up.
“I was observing the circumstances of where I grew up and went to school and thinking that there was an innate unfairness in a lot of that,” Kathleen said.
“I went to a private school and I think from an early age I felt if we had a much more level playing field for everybody then everyone is capable of achieving very great things if they have access to education.”
Her interest in social justice continued at a tertiary level but she was not sure where her place was working within the field.
“I started studying Agricultural Science,” laughs Kathleen, “but I’m not an agriculturalist. That was only because I wanted to live in the country. Then I studied an Urban and Regional Planning Degree, and this taught me how we allocate resources, how people get access to resources and what the impact that planning had on what people’s life opportunities really were.
Kathleen Gregory, Chief Executive Officer of Foundation Housing
“When it came time to finish my degree my thesis was about access to affordable housing. I became interested in cooperative housing and the role it plays as a residential arrangement.”
Her love for the country found Kathleen land her first job as an Economic Development Officer with the Shire of Manjimup. The Shire closed several timber mills in the 1980s and Kathleen’s role encompassed the need to develop strategic plans within communities where jobs would be lost.
“The Shire had access to land and under the old Local Government Community Housing Program we applied for and got funding for 25 houses,” explained Kathleen. “We worked with some of the people we were supporting, and they were involved in the design and the building construction.”
Working on this project was Kathleen’s aha moment. Seeing those homes becoming a strong foundation for people reignited her passion and excitement in housing. From 1991 through to today she has worked continuously in the not-for-profit housing sector.
At Foundation Housing where Kathleen is the Chief Executive a transformation has taken place under her leadership.
“We delivered all of our growth commitments to Government a couple of years ago,” said Kathleen. “Now we are doing our best to understand what the State Government is planning for the community housing sector. Those plans have not been that forthcoming, so we have sought to continue to make the most impact we possibly can on the wait list.
“We continue to positively exit those people who have real capacity to be successful in the private rental market or home ownership, it means we are at least freeing up properties that we can provide to people off the wait list.”
Being subject to opportunities or change outside of their control the CEO has had to make several changes.
“Over the last couple of years, we took out a number of layers of management with the view to really pushing decision making down,” said Kathleen. “I believe this has positioned us as a sustainable organisation, not just from a financial point of view but we’ve got an organisational design and workforce that are adaptable to change and can embrace that.”
Foundation Housing was formed in 2006 following the merger of three smaller housing associations. It manages homes worth over $650m, has ownership interest in more than $200m of assets including lodging accommodation, share houses, single unit accommodation, apartments and homes for singles, families, elderly people and service workers.
The day to day running of Foundation Housing is determined by the community housing agreement formulated by State Government. Each designated community housing provider has access to a common wait list. People who are on that list ticked a box to say they are happy to be housed by a community housing provider.
“When a vacancy comes up for a person and it suits the region, they are in we begin an allocation process,” explains Kathleen.
“There are three interviews, not so much for us to say, ‘No!’ to people but to understand what people’s needs are so that before they move into the house we can link in support. We want people to start in those tenancies in the best possible way we can.”
The Foundation Housing Allocations Team have the best job in the office. Imagine phoning someone to tell them a vacancy has come up and that an allocation process can begin. In some cases, they have waited for this call for over five years. One can only imagine the range of emotions.
“The reactions are always mixed,” Kathleen said. “We receive lots of stories on the difference housing has made in peoples lives and the opportunities housing has provided for them. We introduce our clients to their homes for the first time. These are the enriching stories which make the work worthwhile.
In addition to the work being done now Foundation Housing has to continually look for future development opportunities and be aware of emerging needs of clients. Rather than volume, more money is spent on land where services and networks such as transport and health services are well-established, allowing access for people who don’t have a car.
“Our new developments are focused around the Roe Highway circle,” explains Kathleen. We know that about 70% of job opportunities are within that circle, along with plenty of training opportunities.”
Examining her depth of work, it is clear Kathleen is having a positive impact every day. She has not only identified her place within the field of social justice, she has owned it and in 2016 she received an Order of Australia Medal as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honour Awards for her work in the not-for-profit sector.
"Shelter WA, under Michelle’s leadership, is having a great impact on all things housing related in WA. The work that is being done to define and promote what an effective housing system in WA should look like is very important work that is long overdue. The team at Shelter have engaged all of the relevant key stakeholders, from government, the private sector and the community sector in these important discussions that will help shape a better housing future in WA. I am extremely proud to be a part of the Shelter WA board and I am sincerely looking forward to seeing what significant outcomes that Shelter WA will achieve over the next few years." - Kathleen Gregory, Chief Executive Officer of Foundation Housing.
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