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5 min read

Building a life, not just building wealth

Profile of Nicole Richards
Written by Nicole RichardsPosted on 2/2/2022

Over the past 25 years, Australian Communities Foundation (ACF) has helped hundreds of everyday philanthropists increase the impact of their giving by providing strategy, support and structure that takes donor ideas and turns them into a reality.

Using the experience and expertise of ACF’s philanthropy team, Ondine and Hugh have embarked upon an important and ambitious giving journey that aims to alleviate the housing affordability and accessibility crisis in Australia.

“We see housing as a fundamental human need, up there with food and water,” explains Hugh.

“To our minds, that puts a responsibility on government to facilitate access to housing, predominantly via regulation of the housing market, and our sense is that government has failed in this, and the market is currently not fit-for-purpose because it is unable to facilitate access for ordinary people.”

Adds Ondine: “We believe government has a responsibility to facilitate access to housing in the same way it does to education and reasonable health care.” 

The V&F Housing Enterprise Foundation works to achieve this change by resourcing the reform of relevant policy settings and supporting those advocating for accessible housing.

“Propping up a broken system isn’t enough,” Ondine continues. “It needs to be reset or reregulated.”

We came back to ACF to talk about getting regular and ongoing support to help set us on our way that’s been instrumental to getting us where we are

Getting started and staying focused

The thinking behind the establishment of the V&F Housing Enterprise Foundation was years in the making.

“We knew that I would inherit money and Hugh and I had discussed over many years what we would do with that because our needs are not that great,” Ondine explains. “We believe in contributing to our community and the world.”

Hugh and Ondine agreed early on that targeting a single, fundamental issue in a structured way with their giving was preferable to making ad hoc donations to a range of causes. After researching and comparing different philanthropic structures, the pair opted for a private ancillary fund (PAF) as the vehicle for their giving.

“We knew that we wanted to be very involved and have some control,” Ondine explains. “The PAF gave us control about how we could direct the funds philanthropically and ACF has helped us set everything up administratively and legally – it’s been a very positive experience.”

Finding their place and potential role in the philanthropic ecosystem was another benefit of partnering with ACF Ondine says.

“One of the things that was great for us in talking with ACF was that we had no idea whether we were big fry or small fry; we had no idea whether we were crazy or whether this idea was smart or innovative or conservative. We have a reasonable amount of money but we’re not a Twiggy Forrest.

“After a couple of conversations with ACF we were a bit more sure of ourselves and how we fitted in, and honestly, I remember coming away thinking that we’d found people we could really talk to about our giving and that’s really inspiring.”

After the initial set up and preliminary scoping of their own, Hugh and Ondine realised they had reached a point where they “were not sure where to go from here”.

“We came back to ACF to talk about getting regular and ongoing support to help set us on our way that’s been instrumental to getting us where we are,” Ondine explains. “It’s been a very, very positive partnership.”

ACF’s networks and experience have also helped to connect Hugh and Ondine with important stakeholders and knowledge holders.

“ACF helps us stay focused on our idea and brings us back regularly to look at the tasks and break things down into bite-sized pieces,” Hugh says. “They’ve helped us broker discussions with housing sector experts, economists, taxation experts, academics and develop a brief to commission research,” Hugh says.

With backgrounds in health and social work respectively, the couple spent decades witnessing the challenges that stem from a lack of access to stable housing.

“It’s been an issue that we’ve talked about for more than a decade,” Hugh says. “Housing prices have been rising consistently for more than 30 years and as a social worker I’ve seen the enormous impact that has on families, and in particular children, in lower socio-economic situation. The money coming out of household budgets now towards housing is  far more than it used to be.”

“The underlying issue is that housing has been reframed as an asset rather than as a home,” Hugh continues. “Housing prices are now something like seven times the value of household income, whereas it was three times the value of household income in the past.

“Rather than viewing housing strictly as an asset class, the challenge is reframing the idea of housing collectively so that people hold its importance in building a life not just building wealth.”

“That’s why we’re hoping our giving can help facilitate a more informed conversation in the community, because we believe most Australians would agree that reasonable access to housing is a fair thing,” Ondine adds.  

Building collaborative partnerships

Hugh and Ondine are under no illusion about the enormity of the task and the change they hope to achieve. Having established the Foundation during the social isolation of Covid, the couple is keen to meet, learn from and engage with other like-minded philanthropic funders within and beyond the ACF giving community.

“If we can ever achieve anything it will be alongside a whole lot of other people and other resources,” Hugh says.

“We’re just two people but we hope we can do our part to build a broader campaign or movement. It’s a terribly difficult problem and it will take a lot of resources, more than ours alone, to solve it.”

“We’re happy to spend down the money we’ve put in,” Ondine adds. “We don’t intend to have the Foundation operating in perpetuity. The idea is to be clear about exactly what we’re trying to do and get other people involved in it who will hopefully be inspired to join us in this quest.”

Propping up a broken system isn’t enough,” Ondine continues. “It needs to be reset or reregulated.

Advice to others who are new to philanthropy

Hugh and Ondine offer three pieces of advice for anyone who’s contemplating getting started on their own philanthropic journey:

“The first piece of advice would be just do it,” Hugh says. “ACF is a fabulous channel to help you come to terms with what you want to do – they will help you find your way through it, big or small.

“The second thing is to choose an area that you have some passion for, because where there’s passion there’s energy.

“And related to that, the third piece of advice is that even though there are lots of worthwhile things to be done, it’s important to stay focused.”

Read more about the philosophy that underpins the V&F Housing Enterprise:

The past three decades have seen the cost of housing rise in an unprecedented way. Purchase of a home has become delinked from normal household income and instead reliant on pre-existing wealth, including housing itself. The whole housing market has been impacted, as booming property prices have pushed many into the rental market, increasing rental demand and driving up rents.

The market has been locked in a rising dynamic with excess demand driving prices upward, driving further demand, in a positive feedback loop. These structural issues have been amplified by the historically low interest rates following the GFC and COVID-19, with emerging negative macroeconomic consequences: compromise of monetary policy for fear of a housing crash, and the locking up of increasing amounts of capital in housing, for static return, at an opportunity cost in the wider economy.

Paradoxically, as a nation we find ourselves in the position of assisting, through the tax system, those who already own homes to buy additional homes, while those seeking to buy or rent a home are required to spend greater and greater proportions of household income, driving many towards housing stress and poverty.

The V&F Housing Enterprise Foundation believes the current unaffordability of housing in Australia is unjust, unacceptable and avoidable. The Foundation seeks to facilitate change by:

  1. Understanding the landscape
  2. Forming strategic partnerships and alliances
  3. Raising the profile of the issue
  4. Enabling disruption and innovation

To connect with Hugh and Ondine at V&F Housing Enterprise Foundation, please contact Georgia Mathews at Australian Communities Foundation: