Meet your Board Members: Garry Ellender

Seeing the impact of homelessness on young people in London in the 1980s had a major impact on CHIA’s WA Region Director and CEO of Access Housing, Garry Ellender.

Garry worked at a youth refuge and, later, with parolees coming out of prison and people on probation orders who had urgent accommodation needs.

‘It gave me a real interest in housing and an appreciation of the emerging Housing Associations sector in the UK,’ Garry says.

Those experiences and his social research background enabled him to gain a research position for an inner city welfare committee back in West Australia that wanted to find solutions to rising homelessness in inner city Perth.

‘It was one of the impacts of the America’s Cup; a lot of the traditional lodging houses had converted to backpackers,’ Garry says.

‘The expectation was that I would recommend the expansion of men’s shelters and the homelessness sector but, instead, I recommended establishing a housing association, based on models in the UK.’

The WA Government backed the call, and provided seed funding to establish the Perth Inner City Housing Association (PICHA) in 1988, with Garry appointed as CEO.

‘We built a housing company based in inner city Northbridge, and took over three large privately-owned boarding houses that were in appalling condition,’ Garry says.

‘We were just trying to prevent them from closing. We were successful in getting  government funding for major upgrade works then began looking at alternatives to boarding houses and did a number of joint ventures to develop inner city apartments.’

Garry left that role in 1993, having built what was, at that time, WA’s largest community housing organisation, with nearly 300 homes under management.

He was then contracted to establish a Tenant Participation Program within the Department of Housing before beginning work for the Department, including as a member of the executive strategy team that created a new Community Housing capacity building and growth plan, including asset and management transfers.

‘There was recognition that the standard public housing system models were under serious financial stress,’ Garry says.

‘Through the strategy we obtained a $420 million capital injection into social housing, of which $220 million was earmarked specifically for CH capital programs…the aftermath of the GFC gave us a further boost to enable substantial sector growth, with the nation building capital allocation to WA of $620 million.’

In 2010, Garry jumped ship and became CEO of Access Housing Australia (AHA). AHA put in an innovative bid in July 2010 to secure nation building asset transfers and won major tranches of 249 title transfers and  negotiated a further 300 title transfers through a state program, as well as 500 management lease transfers.

Since 2010, Access has grown from about 700 dwellings to 2,100, with turnover up from about $7.5m to $35m in the current financial year. Net assets have increased from $6m to 165m.

Looking ahead, Garry says that the community housing sector in WA is facing real challenges.

‘From 2013 onwards, pretty much all the community housing programs have been shut down by the Housing Authority and there has been virtually no growth apart from a small amount in the disability area with one-off funding and the new supply being driven by Access Housing and a couple of other CHPs.’

Unlike the Eastern states, the real estate market in West Australia has crashed over the past couple of years with people who would traditionally have been housed in community housing now able to afford private rental.

‘Whilst this has temporally improved housing affordability, there remain significant demand pressures for social housing, particularly for people with high or complex needs.’

Garry is hopeful that CHIA’s productive relationship with the Labor State Government’s new Housing Minister, Peter Tinley, will encourage a greater focus on a broad and expanding role for the community housing sector.

‘We need a genuine government commitment to co-designing, with the sector, a genuine Community Housing Growth Strategy as a critical component of the State’s Affordable Housing Strategy. This is front and centre of CHIA WA’s political advocacy agenda.’