Dan McKenna.

There’s big changes afoot at Nightingale Housing, with the sustainable housing developer promoting Dan McKenna as its chief executive, while co-founder and managing director Jeremy McLeod stepping back from day-to-day leadership.

The appointment of a chief executive is part of a series of changes to the innovative housing organisation that were first announced last year, which also included transitioning to a not-for-profit structure and bringing all its development work in-house.

Nightingale is the brainchild of McLeod from Breathe Architecture, along with his co-founder and partner Tamara Veltre. Its aim is to tackle Australia’s housing crisis by creating environmentally, socially and financially sustainable ho that are owned by residents, rather than investors.

Following the appointment, McLeod will remain on the board of Nightingale, and will continue his work at Breathe. Meanwhile, McKenna was promoted from his previous role as the organisation’s head of operations. 

An evolution, not a revolution

McKenna tells The Fifth Estate his appointment as chief executive is “an evolution, not a revolution”, and is about consolidating all the hard work the organisation has done over the past five years.

“I’m a Nightingale resident myself, so I live it, I breathe it. I understand what’s important and what’s not, in the hierarchy of decisions we have to make every day,” he says.

The new chief executive’s first tasks will be to elevate key people into leadership roles, and build an organisational structure that will enable them to flourish.

“One of my key tasks, once I get my feet under the desk, is to really create a clear organisational chart, so we know where all of our strengths lie and where key people sit,” he says.

“We’ve grown over the past couple of years. We’re a young company that’s six years old, and so a lot of people along the way have been asked to do a lot of different things that have fallen outside of their natural core skills. 

“That’s where I come in. I’ve been around since the very first days at Nightingale. I’ve worn many hats and been involved in many, many different aspects of the project.”

The past six months have been a busy time at the organisation, which has seen it wrap up work on nine new communities. 

These have included the completion of its first regional project, Nightingale Ballarat, as well as Nightingale Village in Brunswick, which the organisation claims is Australia’s first medium-density carbon-neutral housing development. 

“It’s been a long time coming for a lot of those different projects, with a lot of very happy and excited residents moving in. What’s been occupying a lot of our time over the past couple of months is just that big build up to settlement and handover,” McKenna says.

“And then, obviously, there’s a lot of other projects in the background bubbling away. A couple started construction. So there’s a lot of good exciting things happening at the moment.”

Nightingale’s values

All of Nightingale developments are 100 per cent carbon neutral in their operations and meet a minimum 7.5 NatHERS rating, running on renewable power with no gas plumbing. They are also car free, where practical, and are located close to public transport and bike routes.

The apartments are designed to reduce operating and maintenance costs, and be affordable for residents. They are only sold, at cost, to owner-occupiers and community housing providers (CHPs) with buyers pre-selected using a ballot system. 

In each project, 20 per cent of apartments are allocated to CHPs and a further 20 per cent to essential service workers, Indigenous Australians, people with a disability, carers, and single women over 55.

The model also has a strict resale process to ensure long term affordability. Apartments that come up for resale must first be offered to someone in the community and the maximum resale price of the property can’t exceed the price initially paid for it (excluding stamp duty) plus the percentage increase in median house prices for that suburb.

Shifting to a non-profit structure and in-house development

After completing its landmark Nightingale 1.0 development in Brunswick during 2017, which was inspired by an earlier Breathe project called The Commons, McLeod initially sought to partner with external architects and developers to spread the Nightingale model.

However, while 33 licences were issued to firms to create their own “Nightingales”, with an agreement to cap their profits at 15 per cent, only a handful were ever completed. This led McLeod and his team to shift Nightingale to a new in-house development, not-for-profit model. 

The move to a not-for-profile structure certainly hasn’t been without its challenges, with a backlash among some of the participants in the original model.

McKenna says a lot of work took place behind the scenes to officially shift to a not for profit last year. 

“That’s been a really, really positive step for us in enshrining and validating all of the core principles that Nightingale has always stood for. Building that into our constitution and doing that under a not for profit model ensures that can never change, whoever’s involved, whoever’s on the board, or whoever’s leading the company,” he says.

Alongside the shift to a nonprofit, taking on more projects in-house has involved finding and bringing in a lot of passionate and talented people, with the team growing to 24.

But McKenna says he anticipates that the benefits will be that it will help Nightingale to scale, and get better at its work by retaining the knowledge it gains from each project in-house.

“We continue to get better, get sharper and get more clarity on who we are and how we do it, rather than reinventing the wheel every time we do a project,” he says.

Jeremy McLeod, Breath Architecture.

McLeod to remain involved with the organisation

While scaling back from his duties as managing director, McKenna says McLeod will continue to be involved with the organisation as a director, and will continue to receive reports on its progress on a six week cycle. 

“He will have some really good insights and high level views on the direction of Nightingale, what challenges are ahead of us and how we solve them, but he won’t be involved in the day to day running of the business,” McKenna says.

In a statement thanking McLeod for his service, Nightingale Housing chair Angela Perry says the co-founder had been intending to step away from the leadership role for some time.

“Jeremy’s role, along with his co-founder and partner Tamara Veltre, in establishing Nightingale as a real force in working to transform a broken housing market in Australia cannot be underestimated,” Perry says.

“His decision to move away from day-to-day Nightingale operations provides the opportunity for a generational leadership change, to build on the learnings of the past six years and consolidate the gains as the organisation plans a large slate of new developments across the country.”

A bright future ahead

Looking to the future, McKenna says Nightingale is set to announce some new projects “very soon”. 

It is also finally making headway on the construction of a long-delayed affordable rental project in the inner western Sydney suburb of Marrickville, in partnership with Fresh Hope Communities.

The plan was to demolish an abandoned church that had sat unused for seven years and adjacent house on the Churches of Christ’s property to build specialist affordable housing operated through a long term build-to-rent model.

Despite the clear benefits of replacing the derelict and unused building with much-needed sustainable and affordable homes, the project in the supposedly progressive suburb faced an uphill battle over heritage concerns from nearby residents and the local council.  

“It’s been a longer process through planning than we would have hoped. But we’re really, really ready to break ground, start pouring some concrete, and start getting some people into their homes,” McKenna says.

“It’s an evolution. It is something that sits outside the typical Nightingale style project, but for us to be doing something in Sydney, that’s how we’ve made it work, and we’re really excited to see that come to life.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.