The Aboriginal Housing Recovery Centre is “not far away” from taking an important step towards establishing an accommodation and support centre for homeless people at the former El Caballo Blanco property.

Aboriginal Housing Recovery Centre board member and lawyer Wayne Nannup responded to critics of the purchase of the property by the Noongar Charitable Trust.

The former SWALSC CEO reiterated that the land was acquired for long-term social benefit, not for its resale value, and cited an independent valuation which argues the land has increased in value since it was bought.

The property, bought for $12 million in March 2020 and subject to $1.5million worth of renovations, is now an asset owned by the trust and is intended for use as an accommodation and support centre for homeless Aboriginal people.

The Trust also purchased two residential properties in the south of Perth.

All three properties are managed by the Aboriginal Housing Recovery Centre Ltd, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to reduce Aboriginal homelessness.

Nannup is on the board of the Centre.

While neither of the properties purchased by the Trust have gone into private hands, and remain assets owned by the Trust, the decisions were recently criticised by SWALSC Board member Noel Morich, who became a member of the SWALSC board after the properties were bought.

It is understood that Morich has not approached Aboriginal Housing Recovery Centre Ltd for a briefing on the organisation’s plans or progress to date.

Morich cited legal advice from Hotchkin Hanley Lawyers arguing that there was justification to ask Attorney General John Quigley to investigate.

It is understood that Aboriginal Housing Recovery Centre Ltd has not been provided with the legal advice and it did not receive any inquiries about the purchase from the law firm in question.

Equity Trustees, the professional trustee organisation that authorised the release of the trust funds to purchase the properties, has maintained that no trust laws were breached.

A draft report from Ernst & Young alleges the El Caballo property, currently operating as a lifestyle village, operates at a loss of $171,000 a year and could be worth as little as $7.2 million.

The draft report, which was leaked to The Australian, said the property could be worth more if sold as separate lots.

However, a preliminary independent valuation seen by the National Indigenous Times estimated that the 45-hectare property and its buildings are worth in excess of the purchase price, even with the renovation costs factored in.

In May 2020, Nannup met with the Governor of Western Australia, Kim Beazley, to discuss plans for the property.

In a statement issued shortly afterwards, Governor Beazley said “this is a major initiative of resilience and self-reliance that comes at a critical time”.

“Wayne made clear to me its multi-functional purpose. It will house 180 Aboriginal people, but also support services responding to domestic violence, a rehabilitation centre, cultural awareness centre and a specialist aged care and child care,” he said.

“It is one of the most exciting initiatives I have seen as Governor. Folk have stepped out into action on a multiplicity of fronts that are the subject of endless conversation. There is a passion here to exceed in an area of real need.”

Nannup told the National Indigenous Times the properties were not bought with short-term sale for profit in mind.

“The purpose of buying El Caballo was for social return, this is a long term strategy to take our most vulnerable people off the streets and through programs out there and reintroduce them back into the community.”

“It was never designed for commercial return. As it happens, there are commercial opportunities there which can support the social programs, which are the primary focus. We have training facilities, there are two commercial kitchens, it is set up for equine therapy, horticulture, and there are construction opportunities.

“We can run training programs right through there, and that was the thinking behind why we would purchase something like El Caballo. Selling it is not what we bought it for. The purchase was for long-term sustainable programs,” he said.

Nannup said Equity Trust recognised the property was purchased on the basis of a social return.

He said the COVID pandemic had delayed plans to establish the centre.

“We would have had this thing up and running a long time ago. COVID threw us out by more than 12 months,” Nannup said.

There are also issues with some people in the community who have spoken against the purchase. In a nutshell, this still requires some investment, we have done renovations to date but we do need more resources to complete it.

“The sooner we can do that, the sooner we can get the operation up and running – we are not far away.”

By Giovanni Torre