CEO Karen Barnett to retire after 26 years at the helm


Karen Barnett crop

Karen is a reluctant hero, believing that there’s not much to write about.  In looking back over the past 26 years, we beg to differ believing that the value she has brought to PPHA and the broader community housing sector is worthy of recognition.

In 1990 the then St Kilda Housing Association (SKHA) was managing 3 properties with a total of 31 tenancies.  Karen commenced her employment that year, working a couple of days a week, sitting at a desk in the corner of someone else’s office.  Over the following 26 years Karen has built an award winning social housing business with assets valued at $300m+ and employing 40 staff across three offices.

Under Karen’s leadership PPHA has consistently been at the forefront of practice, looking to the future and what could be achieved with creative thinking and more than a touch of bravery.  Whilst Karen’s focus has been on housing locals, she has consistently campaigned at both state and federal levels to develop a strong social housing sector that is a voice for those marginalized from society.

Karen was a founding member of a network of community housing workers supporting each other and discussing common issues.  That network became the Community Housing Federation of Victoria (CHFV), the peak body for community housing in Victoria.  Karen was also a founding member of the national peak body, Community Housing Federation of Australia (CHFA) and served as Victorian Committee member for the National Community Housing Standards and Accreditation Project.  

Karen has instilled a collaborative approach throughout the organisation, leading by example, and there are high levels of pride in what we all do here at PPHA. Twenty-six years on and no longer working at the coal face of tenancy management, Karen still has personal relationships with some of those early tenants.  At PPHA tenant gatherings there is a real warmth and affection between Karen and those tenants that she personally housed.  They talk fondly about her thoroughness, fairness, ability to ‘get things done’ and resolve issues.

The list of awards that Karen has received personally and on behalf of PPHA is impressive.  In 2000 she received a Medal of the Order of Australia and in 2001 the Centenary Medal for her work in social housing and in the St Kilda community.  In the years since then, the list of awards received by PPHA under Karen’s direction is long, culminating in PPHA receiving national recognition as a developer in 2014 when listed as national finalist in the Property Council of Australia Awards for Best Residential Development and in 2015 receiving the Partnership and Corporate Social Responsibility award in the Port Phillip Business Excellence Awards.

Karen’s lifetime contribution to the community housing sector is not only significant, it is unique.  For 26 years Karen has been at the helm of the same organisation (PPHA), surviving the boom or bust effect of State and Federal politics and budgets.  Through it she has driven growth, thought outside the square, created new development opportunities and maintained the local face-to-face culture of the organisation so as to maximize social outcomes for tenants. 

Karen is the heart and soul of PPHA, and community housing is the essence of life for Karen.  Her ongoing legacy is substantial: a rich and diverse local community sustained by innovative affordable housing strategies; a vibrant housing organisation of national significance; and a rapidly growing community housing sector with clear standards and strong state and national peak bodies.

Karen has given 5 months notice to accommodate a broad and rigorous recruitment campaign to find the right candidate to continue driving PPHA’s success.