Saturday, August 29, 2009

Government 2.0 for Cluster Housing

One area the Government 2.0 taskforce could usefully look at is applying web technology to the fourth level of government in Australia: cluster housing. While Australia has three formal levels of government: federal, state and local, there is a fourth level emerging: body corporates and companies running multiple dwelling accommodation. Apartment blocks and aged accommodation form an increasing part of how Australian live and an area outside formal government processes.

Local government is more important than federal or state government in the day to day lives of Australian citizens. That there is water in the tap, the phone works, the garbage is collected and the street lights work very directly effects daily life. Increasingly these services are not provided by government but by non-government organisations with limited input from the citizens. This is not good situation for a democratic country.

Most apartments in Australia are under state based body cooperate laws. Some apartments are run as non-profit companies, while aged accommodation is run as non or for-profit companies. These organisations face many of the same issues as government, in terms of consulting their clients. They increasingly provide services which were previously the role of government.

An good example is City Edge in Canberra. This complex has hundreds of apartments and town houses. The complex includes privately owned owner occupied and rented dwellings. There are also apartments owned by a non profit cooperative contracted by the ACT Government to provide low cost accommodation, including specially designed apartments for the disabled.

The buildings of the City Edge complex are government by several separate bodies corporate, each with its own management committee of owners. There is then a non-profit company with representatives from the bodies corporate to manage common property between the buildings. The complex has its own garbage collection services, solar/gas central hot water, fibre optic broadband connection, roads and solar powered street lights. The costs are paid from fees levied on the owners.

The usual way to run a body corporate is with an unpaid committee of owners. Large complexes, such as City Edge, employ companies to provide administration. These companies typically send the owners paper documents and arrange face to face meetings. Some companies are now using email and the web to a limited extent.

Owners are to a large extent disenfranchised by the lack of any effective way to be consulted in the running of their property. Tenants of cluster housing who are not owners are excluded from most of the decision making process. There are frequent problems with bodies corporate in Australia, leading to expensive court cases.

A similar situation exists in aged care accommodation, which is either run by non-profit or for profit companies with little input from the residents.

The Australian Government could usefully improve this situation by sponsoring the creation of web based systems to support administration and consultation for decision making in cluster housing. This would allow better administration and resident engagement. Free open source standard software could be provided for use across Australia. The software could be used by committees of volunteers in smaller complexes and by administrating companies for larger properties. This would also reduce costs to state government who are required to administer the cluster housing.

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