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.

A minute with Magnus

Churches Housing is first and foremost an association of the key church social service organisations engaged in housing. It is about our members working together for a common cause, which is to unleash the potential within the church to support the vulnerable in our communities through the provision of social and affordable housing. I am proud that the church sector has not only advocated strongly for more proactive government policies and funding but have also stepped up to the crease, picked up their bat and have swatted a few sixers this last year.
Here is a summary of the year:

  • The biggest six this year is the church winning approximately 70% of the first round of the State Government’s Social and Affordable Housing Fund, the billion dollar bank that will be funding 25 year service agreements for the provision of social (at least 70% has be social) and affordable housing. A key criteria here was that one had to bring land to the table and it is encouraging to see that the church sector responded so strongly.
  • Strong advocacy through submissions to government, including the Productivity Commission in partnership with BaptistCare Australia – click here to read the report, participation with government and other peaks in social housing reform and homelessness and advocacy for increased supply of affordable housing through inclusionary zoning with the Sydney Alliance.
  • Continued consultancy, advice, networking and information  to dioceses, parishes, churches and para-church organisations exploring the development of social and affordable housing on their land. Churches Housing has worked strongly with the Sydney Alliance in advocating for clear and real targets for social and affordable housing.
  • Expansion of a network of organisations and individuals that can provide sound and ethical support, services and advice to church organisations. We have continued to consult with a range of churches and church organisations who have land or aged/underutilised assets that may be used for affordable housing.
  • Support with expert skills to organisations either registering for the first time as a Community Housing Provider with the Housing Registrar, or re-registering and requiring support to move across tiers or with updated policy and/or process. This is a fee for service activity, but one that has been jumped upon by our members as a means of training up new staff or gaining helpful support in updating policies.
  • Networking together our members both with each other and with other parts of our sector. Our networking breakfasts have been feeding our members with knowledge, relationships and opportunities as well as cappuccinos and eggs.

We are looking forward to the year ahead and are thankful that God’s heart for the poor and vulnerable is very much at work through our members. We will in the next few months be sending out a member survey which will become an annual measurement of our effectiveness as a peak body. Please take the time to reflect and fill this out so we can continue to ensure we are assisting you in the best ways that we can.

Magnus Linder
Executive Officer

Social and Affordable Housing Fund (SAHF) Phase 2

Market BriefingNSW government

Thank you to everyone who attended the Social and Affordable Housing Fund Phase 2 Market Briefing last week. It was great to hear your feedback.

For the benefit of those who could not make the event, the videos of the presentations can be found on our website. You can also download the event booklet providing more information on Phase 2 of the SAHF.

Social and Affordable Housing Fund
Phase 2 Market Briefing
18 October 2017

If you have any questions or comments please contact us on

Food for Thought

Have you ever thought through the implications of the accommodation-sharing application Airbnb? This business can provide one-of-a-kind experiences of living within the community you are visiting. However, for the residents surrounding the property, this can have unintended consequences and poor outcomes.

Northern NSW coastal resident, Trish Burt – Convener of a community action group – has been garnering support for legislation protecting local residents and communities, to be placed around the Airbnb style of housing. The basis of Neighbour Not Strangers, is “Homes not Hotels-Communities not Transit Zones-People before Profits-Neighbours not Strangers”
Some of the issues this group (which is linked to similar groups world-wide) have sufered so far include;
– an alleged rape and murder of a Melbourne Airbnb client by his three ‘hosts’
– rooms and spaces rented by the hour
– Airbnb plans to grow Live Music Biz in Global Living Rooms Concerts…next to you, without your permission
– Consider the plight of Leichhardt Residents; 57a Albert Street Leichhardt (in a residential area) is now listed as a ‘Multi-Use Area’, “$150/hr, $1,000/day, $4,000/week, 110sqm, perfect for 30 people”.  Seven can rent ‘a desk in room’ (70sqm squeeze) at Newton for $109/week each, six can share 40sqm at Manly at $180/week per person, or 70 can hire a loading dock (58sqm) in Paddington at $45/hour. Then 75 can co-share a 200sqm house in Surry Hills for $2,500/day, or 60 can hire a 100sqm ‘KidzLounge’ at Bondi Junction for $77/hour, or a desk (total 10sqm) overlooking Leichhardt’s Italian Forum for $350/week.  And how to block the nightly rental of the roof terrace next door to you – 100 people – every night at Surry Hills?  Most properties have multiple ‘spaces’ assigned and rented.  So, just how many bodies do you reckon your neighbours can cram in next to your home and rent by the hour…and exactly what are these properties being used for?
– Airbnb’s Brent Thomas – holder of a Law degree/former staffer to NSW Labor Minister – is ‘warning’ South Australia legislators’:  “As the election fast approaches, our message to all sides of politics is simple, leave the fair, innovative rules for home sharing as they are.”

If you and your areas are experiencing similar problems, please feel free to contact Trish via facebook (link below).
Neighbours Not Strangers (Follow us on Facebook)

Lack of clarity around Sydney’s Airbnb rules causes anger, legal threats
Domain – Sue Williams – 24oct17

Upcoming Events

The People Seeking Asylum Team invites you to a special event celebrating the Sydney Alliance’s involvement in securing fee-free TAFE access for refugees & people seeking asylum in NSW/ACT.

Thursday 16 November
5.00-7.00pm (formal proceedings from 5.30 – 6.30pm)
St Stephen’s Uniting Church, 197 Macquarie St Sydney (opposite Parliament House)
Join us for tea and coffee at 5pm before the formalities at 5.30pm and please stay afterwards for some light refreshments.

There are limited spots available so, please register here or
contact me (, 0423 503 998) or
Chantelle (, 0412 876 630) for more information.

AHURI will convene the National Housing Conference 2017 – Building for better lives, in Sydney, in partnership with the NSW Department of Family and Community Services from 29 Nov – 1 Dec 2017 at the brand new International Convention Centre.

With Sydney as the destination, and NSW leading the way in social housing policy reform, NHC 2017 is expected to be our biggest conference ever, with more than 1000 delegates from across the country expected to join us in Australia’s largest city.

Stay informed
Subscribe to our e-newsletter to be kept informed of all the latest National Housing Conference news in the lead up to 2017.

Reports Released

Inquiry into Land Release and Housing Supply in New South Wales
Property Councll of Australia – September 2017

Review of rent models for social and affordable housing
Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal – September 2017

Social and Affordable Housing Fund Phase 2 Market Briefing: videos and content 
NSW Government – October 2017

‘Rent to buy’ in the UK is something quite different in Australia
AHURI – October 2017

Household Expenditure Survey, Australia
Australian Bureau of Statistics – September 2017

Housing Assistance in Australia 2017
Australian Institute of Health & Welfare – July 2017

Scrap stamp duty, replace with a land tax – what are the impacts?
AHURI – November 2017

Regional patterns of Australia’s economy and population
Grattan – August 2017

Shifting the Dial: 5 year productivity review
Australian Government Productivity Commission – October 2017

Modelling housing need in Australia to 2025
AHURI – August 2017

Housing affordability: Resurrecting the Australian dream – Melbourne
Grattan – July 2017

Interesting Reading/Listening/Watching

As with last quarter, I apologise for the length of this section, but there were so many good articles on housing affordability in the last quarter

In the ‘fearless city’, Barcelona residents take charge
The Conversation – Amanda Tattersall

Creative houses from reclaimed stuff

Designing suburbs to cut car use closes gaps in health and wealth
The Conversation – J.Rachele

Leadership needed from Greater Sydney Commission on Affordable Housing
Urban Taskforce

What do single, older women want? Their ‘own little space’ (and garden) to call home, for a start
The Conversation – Y.Hartman & S.Darab

Gladys Berejiklian announces social housing drive to target NSW older women
The Age – James Robertson

We are living alone together in today’s cities – and that calls for smart and ‘bolshie’ moves
The Conversation – Jaz Hee-jeong Choi

Homelessness: What can Australia learn from Finland’s housing solution?
ABC News – Simon Leo Brown

Airbnb and empty houses: who’s responsible for managing the impacts on our cities?
The Conversation – R.Tomlinson

Co-Housing by Design: A creative & deliberative solution for housing & community
LinkedIn – Damian Iles

We Live Here: how do residents feel about public housing redevelopment?
The Conversation – D.Rodgers

“It’s unacceptable:’ NSW Government admits more housing needed for Sydney’s key workers
Domain – Sue Williams

How the NDIS is using the market to create housing for people with disability
The Conversation – Winkler, Taleporos, & Bo’Sher

‘We are begging for housing': the crisis in Indigenous communities
The Guardian – Helen Davidson and Anna Livsey

How much more productive and liveable could our cities be?
Sunday Roundtable with Hamish MacDonald on ABC-RN

Lucy Turnbull’s plan for Sydney is a race to blandsville
SMH – Elizabeth Farrelly

‘Build to rent’ could be the missing piece of the affordable housing puzzle
The Conversation – Matthew Palm

Is Sydney really full? The politics of urban density
SMH – Lisa Visentin

Affordable housing shortfall leaves 1.3m households in need and rising – study
The Conversation – Steven Rowley & Chris Leishman

Calls for higher affordable housing targets as more people on ‘cusp of poverty’
Domain – Kate Burke

Why investor-driven urban density is inevitably linked to disadvantage
The Conversation – Bill Randolph

A minute with Magnus

It has been a big quarter! Some highlights include:

# the Sydney Alliance Housing Assembly, ably co-chaired by Donna Easthorpe with the Sydney Alliance Housing Team currently being led by yours truly. Speakers included the Archbishop Anthony Fisher, the Minister for Planning Hon. Anthony Roberts, the CEO of the Greater Sydney Commission Sarah Hill, Professor Bill Randolph from City Futures and Dr Tim Williams from the Committee for Sydney. Although we went into this assembly knowing that the government was not going to be giving any ground in our ask for greater percentages of social and affordable housing we were greatly encouraged by the huge numbers turning up to support the Alliance (officially 603!) and also with the powerful message that was delivered to our State Government.
Click here for a video of the summary at the end of the evening.

# We have worked with BaptistCare Australia on a submission to the federal Productivity Commission, contributing the section on Social Housing. Click here to read.

# We have supported the church sector in Melbourne as they also grapple with extreme shortages of social and affordable housing as well as the ravages of housing stress.

# We have continued to consult with local churches and church organisations considering development of housing on their land.

# We are consulting with a number of organisations regarding possibilities of applying for the next round of SAHF (Social and Affordable Housing Fund).

# We continue to assist a number of member organisations as they seek re-registration with the Housing Registrar.

# Shortly you shall also be receiving our annual member survey. It is very important that this is completed by both our members and key stakeholders as we do require this data in order to report on our renewed contract for funding from FaCS. We hope that this survey will also be an important tool to assist us in shaping our services for maximum impact in the future.

We hope to see you at our next networking breakfast on the 18th August. Please also consider inviting me to one of your board meetings or for a one on one catch-up. Feedback on our activities and advocacy strategies will be well regarded as is suggestions for future activity. I’d also love to know how we can be assisting your organisation to continue to grow and to be providing both housing and support services for people in need.

Thanks and regards,