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.



It is with great pride that we congratulate 3 members of Churches Housing Inc. who have successfully been awarded contracts for the first phase of the Social and Affordable Housing Fund (SAHF) – a key initiative of Future Directions for Social Housing in NSW.


Combined, they will provide just over 1300 affordable units of housing for vulnerable people across the State. You can read the press release here.


  • BaptistCare NSW & ACT – delivering 375 homes for older people in housing stress and at risk of homelessness and 125 homes for single parent families with a focus on women impacted by domestic violence;
  • St Vincent de Paul Housing – delivering 500 homes to general and older aged tenants;
  • Uniting – 300 homes for people aged over 55 without children at home.


A Minute with Magnus…

A Minute with Magnus…

Happy new financial year! How are you and your organisation feeling about the future, particularly in regard to housing? I admit to feeling a little muddled and mixed up about the future. There are some great initiatives commenced by our State Government in pursuing their “Future Directions” program for social housing; Communities Plus is set to deliver new and rebuilt social housing (much needed as the average age of social housing approaches 50 years) along with considerable private market housing (which will pay for the rest) and a sprinkling of affordable housing. The Social and Affordable Housing Fund (SAHF) is in the final stages prior to announcing the winning bidders for delivery of 3,000 new mostly social housing units. Despite this great news I cannot help but wonder if the overall problem will still just get much worse, as these programs will deliver only 9,500 new units of social and affordable housing over the next ten years. A very modest increase that will do little do reduce the waiting lists and the housing stress experienced in our communities. However, it is a bold start and we applaud the government for having successfully turned the public housing ship from an ever increasing decline in stock to now at least a small increase. One interesting development for the sector is the emergence of contracts that will be measuring not just housing provision but social outcomes. We will discuss this a lot more in the future.

What else needs to be done? There are many things that could and even should be done and no one thing will solve all the issues. It would be wonderful for the federal government to become involved in proactive policies too (click here to read our latest Federal submission). A missing plank of housing has rapidly become housing for key workers, particularly those who earn a moderate wage and are being priced out of being able to live anywhere near the key places of employment. This is bad not just for them and their families, who live in housing stress, but also begins to strangle businesses and institutions as they struggle to retain workers within their communities. One key task that we have become involved in asking our State Government to implement is that of Value Sharing, otherwise known as Inclusionary Zoning; a mandated minimum percentage of affordable housing that MUST be included in every large development. Churches Housing has engaged with other like-minded church groups, community organisations and trade unions in campaigning for Value Sharing. What we are asking for is that the incredible value uplifts, often in the millions of dollars, that are seen through zoning uplifts on new and proposed developments, are shared not just between developer, business and government but also shared with the community by including a minimum percentage of affordable housing in these developments. This will see affordable housing built all across Sydney, rather than just further and further out west. This policy has seen other world cities struggling with the same issue of housing affordability mandate that up to 30% of new developments must be set aside for affordable housing. Our own city of Adelaide has had a 15% inclusionary zoning policy in place for a decade. I recommend a recent article by former Premier Nick Greiner published in the Sydney Morning Herald which discusses this ask. If you would like to become involved we encourage you to speak out, especially to your local MPs. If you would like some resources in order to support such a meeting then please do not hesitate to ask me.


Magnus Linder
Executive Officer

NSW shared homeownership scheme

NSW shared homeownership scheme

– a much needed pathway to housing affordability

A shared homeownership housing model developed developed by a coalition of NSW community housing associations and peak bodies could deliver a much needed pathway to housing affordability for people on-low-to-moderate incomes.

In a first for NSW, the scheme will enable homeowners to purchase between 25 to 80 percent of the value of the dwelling, with a not for profit community housing association as a nonresidential purchase partner.
NSW Federation of Housing Associations CEO, Wendy Hayhurst, said Western Australia, South Australia and the ACT had introduced similar successful initiatives. “Despite housing affordability in this state being the worst in the country, NSW does not provide any government-backed home purchase schemes. Rather than wait for government action, community housing providers have decided to test a model of shared homeownership targeted at their existing tenants.”
Regional Development Australia Sydney Executive Officer Bob Germaine said “shared homeownership is targeted at households earning between $70,000 to $100,000 a year who can’t get social housing and are priced out of the market”. The initiative would see a household jointly purchase a new dwelling with a community housing provider; taking out a standard mortgage and entering into a formal co-ownership
agreement. Ms Hayhurst said the initiative should be a no brainer. “This initiative does not require government help, other than that they correct an anomaly with the First Home Owner Grant,” she said. “It is self funding, does not divert resources away from social housing and is designed to prevent people taking on debt they can’t afford. Even better the community housing provider retains its share of the dwelling and generates a return on its investment to spend on more affordable housing.”
Mr Germaine said that modelling undertaken by the Group indicated there was strong demand for the product. “There are tens of thousands of households already paying rent comparable to the mortgage repayment required for shared homeownership. Realistically the major
constraint is likely to be the number of new dwellings that the providers can offer, not the demand,” he said.

You can access the submission, “Doors to ownership: a business case and guidelines for a shared home ownership scheme with NSW community housing associations” here

Affordable & diverse housing fund

city of sydney



Affordable & diverse housing fund

The affordable and diverse housing fund aims to promote the development of affordable and diverse housing by community housing providers, not-for-profit and for-profit organisations in the City of Sydney’s local area.

The program aims to achieve:
-additional development of affordable and diverse rental housing
-greater range of affordable and diverse housing providers in the local area
-use of private finance to increase funding of affordable rental housing
-wider range of private financiers to fund affordable rental housing
-increased capacity for housing providers to develop medium and high density affordable rental housing
-increased stock of affordable and diverse housing managed by not-for-profit organisations
-reduced housing stress among residents with low to moderate income.

The fund is part of our commitment to overcome financial barriers to promote affordable and diverse housing development.
The City is aiming to provide 15% of total dwelling stock for affordable and diverse housing in the local area.

Funding is available up to $8.5 million and can be used for:
-acquiring land
-design and construction
-associated development costs.

Priority will be given to projects whose funding includes debt finance and preference will be given to applicants registered as tier 1, 2 or 3 under the national regulatory code for community housing providers.

The affordable and diverse housing fund is open all year for applications until funds are exhausted. All projects must be intended for completion within 3 years of funding approval.

For more information about this program or how to apply, please contact:
Grants team
02 9265 9333

Fee-Free Training

Fee-Free Training 

The NSW Government’s Smart and Skilled Fee-Free Scholarships mean that students can get training to get the skills they need to get the job they want and their course fees will be covered.

From 1 July 2016, fee-free scholarships have been extended to people experiencing or have experienced domestic and family violence and their dependants.

Smart and Skilled Fee-Free Scholarships are available for:
*young people who are eligible for a concession fee, with priority given to social housing residents and clients or young people in crisis/supported accommodation
*young people who are or have been in out-of-home care
*people who are experiencing or have experienced domestic and family violence and their dependants.

For more information, please visit the Smart and Skilled website.

Reports Released

Reports Released

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Events

Homelessness Week 2016 – August 1-7
There are many opportunities to participate in Homelessness Week events

Building Bridges 2016
To grow community understanding and dialogue towards justice for Indigenous Australians – August 3, 10, 17, 24.
Parramatta Town Hall, Jubilee Room – 7:30 pm
No charge – Donation appreciated
An initiative of Reconciliation for Western Sydney
For further information, contact Lyn 9639 8394

AHURI One-Day Conference – The future of housing assistance
Wednesday 19 October 2016 – Adelaide Oval

National Housing Conference 2017
29 Nov – 1 Dec 2017
International Convention Centre, Sydney
The biennial National Housing Conference is the single largest cross-sectoral event in Australasia for the social and affordable housing sectors. AHURI will convene the tenth National Housing Conference 2017 in Sydney, in partnership with the NSW Department of Family and Community Services on 29 Nov – 1 Dec 2017 at the International Convention Centre. Registrations will open late 2016.