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Opening doors for disadvantaged homebuyers

02:00pm August 21 2020

Stephen Woodlands celebrates the first applicant to buy a home with support from Head Start Homes (Josh Wall and electriclimefilms)  

A few years ago, Stephen Woodlands spotted a hole in the banking market.

But the drive to act on the opportunity was sparked years ago.

“Head Start Homes’ vision is for a safe and stable home for everyone with fair and practical pathways into home ownership and my personal story kind of relates into that,” says Woodlands, the founder and managing director of the Sydney-based not-for-profit social enterprise.

“I didn’t always have the privilege of having a stable home. We lived in crisis accommodation with the salvation army, we lived in transitional housing, public housing, couch surfing, and from that I learned the importance of having a stable home.”

Head Start’s model works by acting as guarantor for people living in community housing who can afford a home loan but are locked out due to the need for a large deposit and mortgage insurance, effectively functioning like the “bank of mum and dad”. Working with more than 75 supporting businesses and not-for-profits, it also provides a range of support, such as a property coach, to aspiring buyers.

Even before the economic downturn spurred by COVID-19, the not-for profit last year estimated more than 100,000 people are homeless and a further around 194,000 households were on the social housing waitlist.

But just last month, Head Start Homes assisted its first aspiring homebuyer into the market, Charlene, a solo parent of three children in Port Macquarie, after St.George Bank funded the loan. Amid all the recent challenges and uncertainties from COVID-19, it was a fitting moment for Woodlands, who previously worked at St.George and is on secondment at Head Start Homes full time to drive its growth. Westpac is also Head Start’s founding partner, in April 2019 committing $110,000 a year for two years.

“Charlene moving into her own home is a day I'm never going to forget,” Woodlands says.

“The way you learn about home ownership is usually from your parents or from someone that you know that's done it before. And if no one in your family has ever done it before, it's a scary and daunting task and you don't even know where to begin.”

According to its 2019 annual report, a $72,000 investment with Head Start (the average cost of one home ownership journey) delivers $83,628 in individual and community benefits in the first year, rising to more than $1 million in ten years while providing homes for four households, as the capital is recycled over time. Woodlands says it delivers a “multiplier effect” by opening up availability of social housing to families at risk of homelessness by helping existing tenants into home ownership.

“I've accomplished something I never, ever thought I could,” Charlene says. “Just knowing that I've got this for my children, stability for my children, I don’t have to worry now, they’re set.”


St.George Bank and Westpac are among 70 organisations supporting Head Start Homes


Josh Wall is the Head of Video at Westpac Wire. Prior to joining the team, he spent 10 years as a video journalist and documentary filmmaker, most recently as Head of Video for the Guardian Australia. He also worked across numerous News Corp mastheads in Sydney as a presenter, producer, writer and video journalist. Josh is originally from Perth, Western Australia where he began his career by co-creating a video magazine that focused on music and the arts.

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