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What Governments are making their public housing stocks smart?

Most governments around the world, whether they be local, state or national, have to manage thousands and even millions of public housing properties. If you’ve ever managed an Airbnb property or a if you own a property you rent out, then you can appreciate that managing just one or two houses can be a tiresome task. Try being the Hong Kong Government who have to manage over 2.3 million dwellings! Governments can own anywhere between a few percent of total housing stock right up to 50%. For example in Spain, the national government own 2% of total housing stock, whereas in Hong Kong, the national government there own just over 50% of total housing stock.

Will making homes smart make property management easier, and reduce the housing management costs for Governments? The Queensland State Government in Australia thinks so. Recently the Queensland Government published the reasons why they want to convert all 53,000 of their public housing properties from metal key locks to smart access control systems - and saving money was up the top of their reasons for why they want to make their houses smart.

The Queensland Government are searching for a smart access control solution for their public housing stock, and they’ve just announced, through a new Innovation Department, a “Challenge” to companies and organisations that can satisfy their smart demands. The Queensland Government on their website here, published the following reasons for why they want to convert the housing properties they own to to smart access control systems;

1. Cost Savings

The Queensland Government Department of Housing and Public Works (DHPW) currently owns and manages 53,700 residential properties. In order to maintain security of housing for the tenants of these properties, the locks and keys on each property are changed (re-keyed) when a tenant leaves. This is a considerable ongoing expense for the department, with approximately 4500 properties having to be re-keyed each year at a cost of approximately $1m per annum. 2017 QLD Gov website.

So in other words, every time that a person moves out, the Queensland Government has told us they pay around $222 to a local locksmith to come out to the property to replace 3 metal key locks (one for a security screen door, one for the wooden front door, and one for the back door). And this is actually set out in a Government law.

The Australian State Government goes on to explain how there are even more ongoing costs for managing metal key locks - yet they did not reveal this cost;

...additionally, costs are incurred by both Department of Housing and Public Works(DHPW) and tenants in the instance that keys are lost or duplicates are required, as tenants may not create spare sets of keys for a variety of reasons, including financial constraints, not having an appropriate place or person to be custodian of these keys, or a simple omission to do so.

2. Security issues

The Queensland Government told us the majority of their tenants in their public housing are on disability pensions, unemployment, retired pensions, people escaping domestic violence, people with mental health issues, young people, and other vulnerable members of the community - therefore security is a big issue in their housing that needs to be addressed. On the Queensland Government website accessed August 2017, they said;

There may be a delay in the process of re-cutting keys, during which tenants may experience frustration and loss of housing security, as access to their home is compromised while arrangements are made for replacement keys. Therefore, the needs of a diverse range of tenants and their support networks must be central to any potential solution to this problem.

3. Convenience - and other people requiring access, and the wasted resources in managing this;

Public housing and their tenants require maintenance workers to regulalry access their properties - many properties are over 60 years old, built after World War 2 for the migration influx into Australia, and so contractors, plumbers, and repairers often require access. In addition human support services such as nurses, youth workers, and disability support workers need to regularly access the properties too. The Queensland Government told us that considerable time (and tax-payers money) is wasted in managing the access to these properties. The Queensland Government on their website said;

Other stakeholders who may benefit from the solution include the support networks of tenants (e.g. carers and family networks), emergency services, aged care providers, medical care providers, Housing Service Centres, and Building and Asset Services (all agencies/business units within DHPW).

The Queensland Government has told us that the current process of replacing and managing keys and access to public housing dwellings is

"expensive and time consuming, and is no longer an effective management of their resources".

The Queensland Government have also told us, that they are one of the first governments in the world, actively searching for a smart solution, not just talking about it. On their website the Queensland Government said:

A range of solutions exist which partially address this challenge, including solutions used in the hotel industry, smart key locks that link to a smart phone, voice or visual recognition technology and keypad unlocking systems. Many of these solutions however, fail to take into account the diversity of technological ability and knowledge of public housing tenants, including the elderly and people who experience disability. The successful solution will need to align with broad user needs, and provide access for authorised parties in addition to tenants, including government health support workers, and emergency services.

A solution to the Queenslands Government problem does exist and its called NB IoT smartlock smart access control systems.

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