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WelcomeMat

WelcomeMat interview on Focus with Cassie McCullagh, ABC Radio

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In this ABC Radio show, host Cassie McCullagh is in conversation with Mark Khoo - WelcomeMat CEO and Co-founder about why WelcomeMat came about, and its mission to provide an equitable platform for those in need of affordable housing, as compared to a pre WelcomeMat time, where those in need of the service were required to contact each housing provider individually.  

 

In this radio interview Mark talks about how the existence of WelcomeMat, not just makes the coming together of affordable housing tenants and landlords possible on one platform, but it also prioritises the needs of those who might be in extreme hardship, such as domestic violence survivors.

You can read the full script here: https://www.abc.net.au/radio/sydney/programs/focus/focus/13369208
 

Transcript:

Cassie McCullagh:
Well, what is this other option? Mark Khoo is also with us. He's the CEO and co-founder of something called WelcomeMat, a digital platform that is matching affordable rental homes in Sydney with people who need them. Mark Khoo, hello.

Mark Khoo:
Good morning.

Cassie McCullagh:
Look, this totally takes me by surprise, what you do. You're a church-based organization or a group of church-based organizations which have affordable housing. What does the digital platform do?

Mark Khoo:
Hi, good morning. Look, just to introduce WelcomeMat. So WelcomeMat is a digital platform that matches the providers of affordable rental properties with eligible applicants. So we're certainly partly owned by some Christian organizations, but we are not exclusively Christian. And our vision is to be a central place for affordable housing providers to list the vacancies and for people needing help to find them.

Cassie McCullagh:
So these organizations, that for one reason or another, have affordable housing on their books, and it's important to make the distinction. This is not social housing, which is the government accommodation that's made cheaper through taxation, the taxpayer funded. This is perhaps, well, let's say it is a church organization. They may have, for whatever reason, built or own some properties that they want to rent out at a lower price, an affordable price. And it's been hard previously for renters to find those.  So you've sort of brought them all together in one place. So if you're looking for it, you can put your postcode in and find something.

Mark Khoo:
That's correct. And I'm glad you made the distinction between affordable housing and social housing. So just for the audience's benefit, social housing is available to people on very low to low incomes and the people who are eligible are typically in a very low income bracket, often on the brink of homelessness and government support.

Affordable housing, which is different, is open to a broader range of household incomes, including people who can earn higher wages to the more what we call the moderate levels. And it's an opportunity for people to rent homes at a rate of at least 20 to 25% below market, and usually through some government sponsor programs, but certainly not just in the form of government programs.  So as you mentioned, there may be churches or other not-for-profits that provide their properties at a discount as part of their mission. Recently, for example, we've had [inaudible 00:02:59] Super. They've got affordable housing as a product to help key workers, for example. So there's various programs, some through government subsidies, some through the planning system, others just from the not-for-profit and church sector, all of which combine to comprise this affordable housing sector. And WelcomeMat's a platform for people to find all the properties, many properties on the one spot, and to work out whether they're eligible for it.

Cassie McCullagh:
So there's a federal government scheme, which I think was a Labor initiative that followed the GFC. And I think it's been funded ... its funding's sort of due to run out, but the idea was if you built a new property and you included affordable housing, you were able to take advantage of some other ... whatever it is, whether you use more of the space or you were able to put more full-priced apartments on if you included some of these discounted ones.   And so this has kind of been working. So it's an aggregate of the, as you say, people with a mission or organizations with a mission to provide affordable housing, and some who are using the benefits that have been offered by policy. So how many properties do you have on WelcomeMat?

Mark Khoo:
Yes. So WelcomeMat has only just launched not long ago. So we had a soft launch in December and it's been growing. At the moment, there's about 170 odd properties available on our website. That number should hopefully grow over time. It's important to note that these properties are quite often snapped up very quickly. So even though it might be 174 right now, properties are regularly added to the website at around the same rate as the properties being tenanted and being archived.

Cassie McCullagh:
And are you looking for more affordable properties to come on board? Are you thinking that there might be other landlords who'd be interested in listing their properties with you?

Mark Khoo:
Yeah, certainly. So our vision is to be a central place for all affordable rental housing vacancies to be listed. So it's probably useful to mention why we came about. Because at the moment there's very low awareness as to what affordable rental housing is. 
And in fact, before WelcomeMat, if you rang the government department and you asked for affordable housing, two things might happen.

You either get a collection of phone numbers ranging from Anglicare all the way down to Vinnie's, and you try your luck there, or you try to find affordable housing randomly on realestate.com or Domain or other platforms. 

So our vision is for us to be the one central place for people to find it. And they don't need to be experts on the eligibility criteria across the various programs. WelcomeMat's designed so that if you tell us what your situation is, the WelcomeMat system then tells you what you're eligible for.  But certainly to be a central place, keen to obviously have more listings. So we have really good support right now from industry peak bodies and many community housing providers, such as St George Community Housing, Anglicare, Vinnies, Link Wentworth, and so forth. But it's certainly not limited to just those categories. It could also be private sector landlords who wish to put it forward. We would suggest that they appoint a community housing provider to manage it, for example, but as mentioned, there's also others, non-government funded such as some industry super funds, programs and so forth.

Cassie McCullagh:
Well, I mean, what I think you probably do in streamlining this is you establish the credentials of the would-be tenant so that they don't have to keep presenting their situation to would-be landlords every time they apply for a property, which must be a real relief for them. I mean, there's a bonus just in that.

Mark Khoo:
That's correct. And it could actually be a lot more than just relief and convenience. So as mentioned before we came along, there was no central place for people to find and apply for it. And the system almost expects people to become experts on the various programs. So for us, we just flip it around to say, "Look, Joe Bloggs, or Jill Bloggs, tell us your situation and we tell you what you're eligible for”.  But just to use an example of why it's more than just relief. I mentioned the example of where someone might be expected, pre-WelcomeMat, to make 50 phone calls during a day and randomly try their luck. That's inconvenient. But just using an example of say, a domestic violence survivor, who may be under surveillance and unable to make phone calls during the day and perhaps only able to jump online after midnight. This person probably, as mentioned, is not able to make the applications, but their need for affordable housing is really great. So for us, it's about providing an equitable platform so that everyone has an equal chance to apply for it and hopefully for the housing providers to find the tenants who need it most.

Cassie McCullagh:
Well, Mark Khoo, I didn't think that I was going to find a good news story in Sydney's rental property scene, but it sounds like you're providing us with one, so well done, and we'll watch with interest as your program grows. WelcomeMat, yeah.

Mark Khoo:
Thank you very much.

Cassie McCullagh:
Yeah. Fantastic stuff. Okay. So if you want to know more about that and see if you can find a property or maybe even put one on, jump online and look at WelcomeMat, this digital platform. And you just put in a postcode of where you might want to live, and you can see, and as Mark says, it's pretty humble beginnings, but you might just find something. I had to look around and there are some great properties.
 

 

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