Meet the Members – Helen Wood

Meet the Members – Helen Wood, Uniting with Donna Easthorpe

I met Helen Wood, Director of Independent Living and Affordable Housing for Uniting NSW/ACT, late in 2017. Helen is currently tasked with the leadership, management, and realignment of the Uniting portfolio of an impressive 79 communities, spanning seniors’ housing, retirement living and affordable housing for over 55s. Until 2016, Helen also spent 14 years as a volunteer director of Bridge Housing.pic WOOD Helen headshot

Helen grew up in the UK and did an undergraduate degree in psychology. She worked in real estate then property management at British Rail. She found her passion at Notting Hill Housing Trust where she worked closely with councils to clear West London slums and begin a rolling program of new and refurbished housing.  During this time she qualified as a chartered surveyor and later became CEO of the Soho Housing Association in Westminster, where she worked in partnership with the GLC and developers to build social and supported housing in the centre of London..

Community housing providers have been a huge part of the housing continuum in the UK for the last 50 years. Helen and her family migrated to Australia in 1998, but as a Housing Association developer, she found there was almost none of that type of work here. So, Helen took a stint as a project director for Housing NSW, which she found rather personally unsatisfying. Following this, Helen began working for Catholic Health Care developing age-appropriate housing for seniors, and managed retirement villages until a redundancy saw her take a position at Uniting – where she has served in various capacities, including developing and operating retirement living and seniors’ housing, ever since.

Due to her psychology degree, Helen has long looked at humans and their needs. A great part of why she does what she does is to address people’s most basic needs in the hope that it will give them a stable base for more interesting and socially productive pursuits. She explained to me that according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safe, secure, affordable housing will underpin the ability to satisfy all five of the hierarchies of human need (physical, safety, belonging, esteem, self-actualisation). With this basic need met, people can move through to the peak level, self-actualisation, and become productive members of society. See
pic Maslow for Helen Wood
Community housing funding in the UK has had good bipartisan support for decades. In Australia, areas for which we need to cater include LGBTQI+, young people exiting care, people living with a disability and older hidden homeless – especially women. Helen is advocating levels of 15-20% affordable housing across all jurisdictions to promote a more equitable society. NRAS (National Rental Affordability Scheme), SAHF (Social and Affordable Housing Fund), matching federal funding in the 1970s –all enabled churches’ involvement in housing and aged care villages. Using the Residential Tenancy Act allows Uniting to provide for a mixed tenure community in all retirement villages – Helen has so many wonderful stories about its ability to change lives and is very proud of Uniting’s Rainbow Tick accreditation.

Uniting has had a long association as a member of Churches Housing, culminating in the recent advocacy with the State government in partnership with many other faith organisations and the Sydney Alliance. Helen said Uniting is well-resourced in assets and has many opportunities to develop so-called ‘lazy’ land and property holdings for housing. The future is full of opportunities and challenges, with densification and rezoning constantly providing opportunities for new developments.

Uniting is using development surpluses to cross-subsidise affordable housing, although there is a struggle to balance floor size for Liveable Housing Design Standards, versus break-even or profit-ratio. Uniting currently has 10 NRAS projects fully occupied and ticking over very well. Looking at greater scale for development into the future, Helen expects to see 20% of 1,000 units in the pipeline being devoted to affordable housing.

Uniting is working to provide health and wellbeing services, along with tailored support coordination to assist in personal issues and sustaining tenancies. The organisation also provides support services for people living with disability. Uniting has already housed 66 SAHF clients, and is looking at experimenting in one of their villages with piloting a shared village-car scheme (like GoGet) to reduce the need for individual residents to own vehicles. This may work by charging residents a nominal fee to access a well-maintained car and petrol.

In closing our interview, I asked Helen what her perfect world would look like, and she said that the issues are simple – there is currently not enough housing or funding. If Helen were Queen For A Day, these items would be on her wish list:

  • social housing seen as essential infrastructure and properly funded
  • bi-partisan support for a predictable and long-term funding stream
  • negative-gearing targeted to low-value properties with tenants on low incomes as in US, and
  • compromise on over-sized dwellings, but without opting for tiny houses.

Practically, the government does not have to do it itself, but it does have to fund it. Housing our citizenry must be essential infrastructure, viewed in the same way as schools, roads, sporting stadiums and hospitals.

Thank you for being so generous with your time, Helen.

Check in our next newsletter to meet another Churches Housing member organisation.

Residency Rights

Residency rights for people with disability – submissions due Friday 2 March 2018

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

The NSW Government has begun public consultation regarding people with Disability, Protecting the Rights of Residents in Supported Group Accommodation.
The proposal is to provide residents of long-term supported group accommodation with resident rights equivalent to those that are available to people in private and social rental accommodation and residents in boarding houses.

Public consultation began on 12 January 2018 and will close on Friday 2 March 2018.

FACS has published the following documents on the NSW Government’s Have Your Say and FACS websites:

1. Consultation Paper (in plain English)
2. Technical Issues Paper
3. Easy Read Summary

The Consultation Paper outlines the policy position in plain English and the questions in the Consultation Paper are also repeated in the online survey to provide a simple option for people to provide feedback.
The Technical Issues Paper provides more details of the proposed policy position and follows the criteria in the Residential Tenancies Act.
People can give feedback in various ways:

1. complete the online survey
2. write via e-mail or letter – this is the preferred way to provide comment on the issues raised in the Technical Issues Paper
3. phone 1800 379 284

FACS invites you, your organisation and your members to comment and give feedback on the proposal. Please visit the websites listed above to access the documents and detailed information on how to respond.
The NSW Government will publish a final report in June this year, based on feedback received.
If you have any questions regarding this process, please email Nancy Tan, Project Manager on or call 1800 379 284.

New Staff

pic Yelland Philippa red top lkng rightPhilippa Yelland – Research & Communications Officer (BA)lkndflkngfd
Philippa joined Churches Housing in January 2018 with deep experience in journalism, publishing and research. Her most recent work was as communications and marketing manager for a large, Sydney-based public company that specialised in financial services. From practical experience, Philippa knows that housing security, peacefulness and affordability are crucial for all people if they are to live good and satisfying lives. Her plea to political decision-makers is a rephrasing of John the Baptist: ‘If you have two houses, give one away.’ While Philippa currently attends C3 church, she has also been part of Anglican and Uniting congregations.

“Open Expression of Interest” – Release

Open Expression of Interest (FACS.15.34) was released to the market via the NSW Government’s eTendering website on 24 July 2015, seeking expressions of interest from organisations or consortia interested in establishing a new and independent-from-Government structure for The Collective NSW.

Expressions of Interest close 2pm, Tuesday 18 August 2015.

Questions about the EOI should be directed to


About The Collective NSW

  • Protecting the most vulnerable
  • Break the cycle of disadvantage

Instead of government, the community leads the way to help solve problems for some of the community’s most vulnerable

What is It About?
The Collective NSW is a model which aims to protect the most vulnerable in our society and break the cycle of disadvantage through cross sector and community collaboration.

It reduces government’s prescriptive role clearing the path for the local community to lead the way, supported by the corporate sector, government and the community. See our story.

Who Is Involved?
Communities and individuals, big and small business, all levels of government. Non-Government Organisations and academics.

The Collective is about everyone joining forces to create social impact.

Working together is much more effective than working alone. The Collective brings everyone together to support projects and ideas. It is about pooling time, talent and resources to bring about positive change. It is about floating new ideas and encouraging new ways of thinking to tackle age old problems associated with disadvantage.

Communities are closest to the issues affecting them, so they are usually best placed to offer a solution. Under the Collective NSW model government lets the community direct the path allowing for a joint response from the community, government and business, big and small.

Our Online Community
The Collective is on social media where like-minded people wanting to disrupt inequality can gather, connect and work together to create outcomes to improve life for our most disadvantaged.

NSW Housing Affordability Crisis

Housing and homelessness peaks in NSW today issued a joint statement outlining their position on the housing affordability crisis in NSW.
There is an increasing public discourse on the housing system and in particular the availability of accessible and affordable housing. Clearly the system is failing many individuals and families. We have considerable experience and expertise in understanding the housing markets and call on all levels of government to work to ensure a fairer housing system.
A lack of affordable housing has both economic and social consequences. Without safe and secure housing women and children can’t leave violent situations, recidivism increases, homelessness will not be solved and essential service workers will increasingly be unable to live in the communities they serve.
We reject claims that increasing supply will solve the affordability crisis. In recent years NSW has seen strong increases in supply, but affordability has only worsened. Increasing supply will only make a difference if it is specifically targeted to the lower end of both the home ownership and rental markets.
Changes in employment that have resulted in greater levels of casualization, contracting and insecurity have had a serious impact on first home owners capacity to sign up to long term mortgages with confidence. Workers under the age of 30 are more likely to be casual than ever before. If the trend continues into the prime working age years it will come at the cost of income security. Almost a quarter of all employees in Australia (23.9 per cent, or 2.2 million people) in 2012 reported as casual employees. The proportion is even higher after adding more than a million contractors and the hundreds of thousands employed through agencies. In addition wages growth is almost flat.
In much of NSW attempts to assist people on low incomes into the private rental market is an almost impossible task. This is clearly evidenced in the Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot. Additionally at the 2011 Census over 86,000 households in NSW were in rental housing stress, paying  more than 30% of their income in rent. This is unsustainable.
Tax reform is necessary. We would urge all parties to re-examine the findings of the Henry Tax Review. There is clear evidence that negative gearing and the capital gains tax discounts drive speculation, increasing house prices. There is scant evidence that making adjustments to negative gearing will cause rents to increase.
While the New South Wales government has made a start in establishing an incentive fund for social and affordable housing, more needs to be done. There is an enormous gap between government sponsored housing and the private rental market. We would support direct investment by the state government to increase affordable housing supply. Private investors need encouragement to provide affordable housing.
The New South Wales laws need to change to allow increased security of tenure for tenants as well as fairer laws on rent increases. We believe that the Boarding House Act, while a step in the right direction has failed to ensure an adequate standard of accommodation for many people who are marginally housed.
We would support moves by local councils to increase the supply of affordable housing and urge them to work with communities to encourage new development, by highlighting the significant social benefits of secure and affordable housing.

For further information:
Churches Housing: Magnus Linder – 0417 487 052
DVNSW: Moo Baulch – 0400 936 192
Homelessness NSW: Katherine McKernan – 0425 288 446
NCOSS: Laura Maclean – 0412 867 658
Shelter NSW: Mary Perkins – 0419 919 091
Tenants Union of NSW: Ned Cutcher – 0405 433 996
YFoundations: Michael Coffey – 0425 228 758


Network Breakfast

OldGovHouseParraDear members and friends,

We would love to invite you to our next Churches Networking Breakfast, to be held at Lachlan’s Restaurant, Old Government House in Parramatta Park. Apart from catching up with your own network, we have invited our own Parramatta MPs, Federal (Julie Owens) and State (Geoff Lee). They represent two different sides of politics, but both sides are making progress in affordable housing policy. So come along and do some quality networking with your colleagues along with a nice buffet breakfast.

Date: Friday 19th June, 8:00am – 9:30am

Cost: Members $30, Non-Members $35

Location: Lachlan’s Restaurant, Old Government House, Parramatta

Register: Online Registration and Payment

Magnus Linder

Case Study – Lighthouse Youth Homelessness Project

LighthouseYIIt has been with some excitement and anticipation that we at Churches Housing put forward this research report into the Yallah Youth Housing Program. It presents as a unique and overwhelmingly effective initiative to provide transitional housing and community for youth who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. In many ways you would think that the Lighthouse initiative at Yallah is wrong; its location is nowhere near many essential services, transport or areas of high employment. Yet this transitional housing program appears to be a lot more than just transitional; it appears to be genuinely transformative. With 67% of participants ending up in secure accommodation and 49% in full-time employment or training upon completion, this program has something special.

The first we heard about the Lighthouse initiative was a few years ago when working with Anglicare. Anglicare Illawarra commenced partnering with Lighthouse to deliver personal training to a group of young women who were in danger of becoming homeless, part of the Yallah program. This personal training program, delivered twice weekly, saw this group transformed. Many were dealing with much anger, frustration and past abuse, while some did not even have a pair of shoes to train in. Over a period of months the personal training saw this group compete in the local Illawarra Aquathon, of which Anglicare is the main charity beneficiary. Complete with new shoes and tri-suits, (thanks to some corporate sponsorship) this group of ladies not only competed, but felt so empowered afterwards that they commenced to recruit some of their friends to participate with them in another event. However, personal training was not the primary goal. The personal trainer shared that she knew she was there primarily as a life coach, looking to build long-term relationship in order to foster self-esteem. Relationship was the key!

The NSW Government’s own “Going Home Staying Home Reform Plan” seeks to reduce repeat homelessness, increase the proportion of clients who can establish and keep long-term accommodation and reduce the need for temporary accommodation. The Lighthouse initiative does all of this, but how? The key that comes through loud and clear through the client interviews is relationships; specifically caring relationships that build community, along with links into a broader caring community outside of the program itself. Some programs may evaluate success based on the number of beds made available, the number of interventions made or the number and types of services delivered. However, the defining measurement must be the outcomes that occur at the end of the program itself. Has genuine transformation begun, have the participants learned to become independent, have they secured long-term accommodation and are they either gainfully employed or in training to be so? Delivering services is simply not enough; services must be delivered in the context of a caring community and relationships that foster a sense of self-worth.

We hope that our state government benefits from the insights given in this report and can support and encourage programs that deliver more than just services. We hope that other church and community groups will be inspired by the findings in this report and can be encouraged to implement new and innovative programs to target youth in their own communities. Finally, we also hope that this report will be of great benefit to Lighthouse itself in evaluating, planning and making any necessary changes to ensure this program continues to be successful into the future.

Download the full report

Federal Budget – Housing & Not-for-profit Organisations

The New Federal Budget contains many changes which will affect the housing industry, not-for-profit organisations and the welfare sector.

Most troubling for the Affordable Housing sector is the axing of the NRAS scheme with no thought or alternative to those who spent time, energy and finances applying for the now redundant Round 5.

Here are some helpful links which discuss these issues:

The affordable housing industry: maximising opportunities

The development of the affordable housing industry in Australia is at a critical point. It is under pressure to increase the supply of affordable housing and to respond to the diversity of tenant and household needs within the wider housing market. Shifts in government policy and regulatory frameworks aim to promote the growth of the industry, reduce the regulatory burden on providers, increase opportunities across jurisdictions, and support future housing product development.

To-date the industry has responded effectively to opportunities to upscale and diversify. There have been significant organisational changes as the business models of affordable housing providers have become more diverse and complex.

How can this industry be further developed in Australia? What is the reform agenda to support this development and what is the capacity of the industry to respond?

This event convened by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) will be informed by the significant body of evidence AHURI has developed on this matter including the Final Report Understanding leadership, strategy and organisational dynamics in the not-for-profit housing sector and the soon to be released Final Report Understanding decision making in the not-for-profit housing sector: longitudinal and comparative components.

The event will bring together what is known about this issue from the research perspective with what it means to senior policy-makers and the affordable housing industry.

Hear from international guest, Professor David Mullins from the University of Birmingham in the UK, as well as local experts:

The event will conclude with an audience discussion and Q&A with panel members to address key issues:

  • Industry settings and industry players—what does an affordable housing industry look like?
  • The role of policy and regulation—how is the industry supported to grow and diversify?
  • Organisation capacity—what is the capacity of affordable housing providers?

Event Details:

  • Cost


  • When

    Tuesday, 13 May, 2014
    8:45 AM – 12:30 PM

  • Where

    SMC Conference and Function Centre
    Ionic room
    66 Goulburn Street

More Details…


Submissions are LIVE!


Federal Housing Submission has also gone live!


A re-worked edition of the State submission was also sent to the Senate Economic References Committee addressing the criteria of its “Inquiry into Affordable Housing 2014” on the 25th of March 2014.  Click here to read this submission.


Churches Housing has worked with ANGLICARE Sydney, supported by BaptistCare and Anglican Retirement Villages to make a comprehensive submission to the current NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into Social, public and affordable housing. The submission includes background research, case studies and recommendations. Click here to read the submission. A special thanks goes out to the research team at ANGLICARE Sydney for their most valuable contribution.