The Concept

Hartwood Hub – The Concept

The concept of Hartwood Hub and the homes we create, like Fisher House, is to provide a haven in which women can rent a room to live short term, whilst also providing supportive educational programs to enable mature women like myself to regroup, recover and re-organise their lives after everything has suddenly been turned upside down, through no fault of their own.  Understanding how these women get into such dire positions is key to understanding what needs to be done to help them and what Hartwood Hub aims to do.

Given that the women we will be helping are grieving and traumatised, whether through divorce, being widowed or recovering from another life-changing trauma, they are in a world of emotional pain and their life is in upheaval. If you immediately add the burden of financial and/ or housing issues to these already overwhelmingly stressful experiences and emotions, it is little wonder that problems like homelessness and near homelessness are becoming prevalent in this demographic.

How can this be? Is this really a problem in Brisbane? In Australia?

Yes, and the cases are more prevalent than we could imagine, and the causes are notoriously overlooked and misunderstood by most of us, certainly in my generation, and those before me. Furthermore, this unacceptable problem will continue into future generations unless the growing issue is addressed openly with younger generations, thereby increasing their awareness and encouraging the development and implementation of plans to ensure this problem does not continue. Most importantly, however, and sadly the least likely to be easily changed, the Australian financial lending authorities / institutions need to gain greater understanding, awareness and acceptance of various income streams for women who do not work in a standard 9 – 5 job. This includes recognition of passive income, freelance income and trust fund allocated income.

The women I have described above, who will be calling a Hartwood Hub house “home” for a small part of their journey as they work toward creating their new normal life, are traditionally dedicated and loyal homemakers. These women are also often highly educated career women who have chosen to cut their professional lives short, to care for their family or a terminally ill spouse or partner. However suddenly, they find themselves without their husband and in a dire financial and housing position, amongst the many other issues already being experienced.

  • These women often have no independent credit rating because, more-often-than-not, the family’s credit card is issued in the husband’s name, and the wife holds only the subsidiary card which allows her to spend, but not accumulate a credit rating. This can be the case even if the woman works outside of the home, but her husband’s income is higher than hers.
  • Being a homemaker or a carer means that one works in the home in an unpaid capacity. Often, to do this job of being a Mum and a Wife well, requires a wide range of high-level skills; I call it being the ‘Manager of all Urgent Matters’, including, but not limited to, carer, educator, family budget manager (short, medium, and long-term planning), secretary, events co-ordinator, holiday planner, cook, cleaner, driver, driving instructor, nurse, and, counsellor etc. However this work and related skills are not recognised, and certainly do not have an associated annual salary equivalence- like a “real job” would- not even so much as a family tax deduction.
  • A woman who has chosen to stay at home to care for her family or who has chosen to take leave from her career to spend the final years with her spouse as they battle a terminal illness and face the heartbreak of end-of-life that arrives too soon, may in fact still have a legitimate income gained through investments which generate rental income or dividend income from share portfolios. However, this income is considered by financial lending institutions as “passive” and is considered to carry greater risk and instability; it is not deemed as reliable as a “real job” or a “salaried job” from a lending perspective. The amount of the woman’s annual passive income does not seem to be of concern, only the fact that it is passive. 
  • The women we will be helping will, most likely, have no rental history because they will have lived in their family home with their husband / partner. If the family home was a rental property, the lease is most commonly in the name of the husband/ partner as the income generating spouse. The woman is not guaranteed to be able to stay in that accomodation. She usually needs to re-apply and be authorised as a suitable tenant capable of servicing the lease requirements in her own right.  If the family home is owned, it may still have a mortgage.  This is where things become incredulous; if mortgaged, the women may have been faced with the horrific experience of being told that her mortgage facility would need to be closed if (as is most common) it is held in joint names. Furthermore, she most likely would then be told she does not re-qualify for a mortgage in her own right- being a woman in her fifties, with no ‘real job’ generating regular income or only passive income.  It is at this point the banks make it clear that they offer a certain amount of time to allow for the outstanding loan to be repaid in full – generally leaving the woman no option but to sell the family home.  This cannot be true you say… I can honestly say it is true because it happened to me in 2020. 

Why am I doing this? Why, in my mid-fifties, have I decided to set up Hartwood Hub and create homes like Fisher House? 

I became widowed in early July of 2020, at the age of 52, after 34 very special years (yes, we met when I was 18) with a wonderful man- my best friend, soulmate and husband. Together, we created a beautiful family and lived a full and rewarding life that was cruelly just cut too short. Knowing that my husband’s end of life was growing closer, after a brave 8-year battle with stomach cancer, we planned for our family’s “new normal” after he was gone. He needed to know that we knew how things would be funded, where our young adult children and I should live moving into the future, what assets I should keep, what I should sell. 

We thought we had everything sorted down to the finest detail. We could not have been more wrong.  What I experienced shortly after being widowed can only be described as harrowing and, were it not for amazing legal and accounting support, a lot of “luck” and a good deal of personal courage, my life could very well have turned down a different path.  

Still grieving, and guiding a teenage daughter and a son in his early twenties through their grief journey, I felt there was nothing to be gained by sharing my family’s story so I just moved on as best I could. However things were not great emotionally, and, financially, it became evident that to continue life for another 30 – 40 years, I would need to supplement my income stream.  Importantly, in the months after, I settled into my new smaller home and reflected on how I had somehow managed to get through the nightmare my bank had put me through; I took on board the ‘learning’ from my ‘widow experience’ with the banks, as negative as that was, and, for a while shared, the woeful story with all who I felt could benefit from it and began thinking about what I wanted to do for work. 

The more I reflected, and shared my story, the more I realised that I was indeed the lucky one because I had been able to navigate my way out of the potentially disastrous financial position I was placed in after my husband’s passing. I then realised that I had the ability to help other women (divorcees and widows) who, through no fault of their own, also found themselves lost, alone, confused, misinformed, and cut-off financially. Some of these women would be forced to sell their properties, have reduced, limited or no income, or, as was my case, have their income deemed by the ‘powers to be’ in the banks as high risk / not recognised- passive income- therefore deeming them as too risky to continue to lend to. 

Having my line of credit (loan facility) shut down with only an hour’s notice a few weeks after my husband passed, despite my financial position remaining the same, is a drastic story but not the only horrendous story I have experienced since being widowed.  Losing my husband was the hardest thing I have endured, but the aftermath, and the period in which I have had to create my “new normal” life in a world without him, has been challenging, heart-breaking and soul destroying. Although I have not experienced homelessness, I have experienced the appalling effects of gender bias and its impact on the treatment of women in business, in banking, in superannuation, insurance and in everyday life. 

Secondly, as a very wise friend, my calm counsel as I often say, reminded me just recently, I started Hartwood Hub because I needed a job. I needed a job because in my early fifties I certainly was not in a financial position to sit back and do nothing for the next 30 to 40 years and, importantly, I felt I needed to work… too much spare time was not good for my emotional recovery. But I was tired, depleted of energy. Rather than return to my previous profession of Teaching with a focus on Early Childhood Education, I decided I wanted to do something to not only help and financial support myself, but benefit other women who sadly find themselves experiencing similar hardships but who do not have the experience, networks, and educational skills I had. 

I have shared this very private story because this is what is happening to mature widowed and divorced women here in Queensland and some are then finding themselves in situations in which life becomes overwhelming and hopeless. These are women who are not without financial means necessarily, they may have investment properties, a share portfolio and even drive a nice car. However suddenly, they find themselves in a new and different circumstance -one in which they are like a square peg trying to work its way into a round hole.  No one seems to be listening to their story. They are not being heard and, before they know it, there is nowhere for them to go.

I decided enough was enough and someone had to do something, no matter how small, to start with. The Hartwood Hub concept was established and the first ‘haven for women’, Fisher House, was purchased as a result.  However, providing the beds to rest their weary bodies is only part of the solution for this demographic. The value / need for education and skill development to go hand in hand with the short-term rental housing solutions is a crucial piece to this puzzle. 

I see educational and support programs as equally important, so we plan to build and establish suitable Learning Hubs where women can come to get support and help to do even the simplest of tasks such as learning to access essential resources or guiding them toward online courses to assist with return to work, preparing resumes and preparing for interviews etc. The Learning Hub building, once built, will be a “day centre” so that the clients staying at Fisher House can access the classes and programmes on offer for a nominal fee; additionally, women outside of Fisher House will be able to book to access our programmes, enabling us to help many more than our 21 in-house clients. Hartwood Hub’s Learning Hub will become a place of support, education, and, most importantly give these women a much-needed sense of belonging and community.

At this point I want to be very clear: Hartwood Hub, and the homes we create along with the Learning Hubs are not negative toward men…. I had 34 wonderful years with my Angel Husband, I have a genuinely gentle, kind Dad, an honest, caring, loyal brother, a son who is a truly decent human, nephews, and male friends whom I can turn to and trust without hesitation. Fisher House has been created with dedication, passion, and determination by a group of hard-working predominantly male tradesmen and subcontractors. 

This is not about ill-will toward men. That will not be happening. There are sadly bad eggs in both genders. What we want to rectify is the way a widowed or divorced women is treated by financial and government agencies and employment and housing sectors simply because she has become a widow or divorcee. Quite often, no other factor has changed, yet suddenly society deems that woman to be incapable of servicing loans, taking a lease, or holding down a job. This is what we want to address. This is what Hartwood Hub wants to help women overcome- 21 women at a time, if need be, as currently Fisher House has the capacity to house 21 women.

Hartwood Hub’s flagship haven for women, Fisher House, opens in 2023 and it is our aim to grow from here with our profit for purpose business model. It is important to me to ensure that it is known we are not a charity.  We are a privately owned, small business with a focus on providing beautiful rooms for mature women to rent within lovely old, renovated Queenslanders, and to run parallel learning and support programs to assist women on their journey to a positive, ‘new normal’ life.

Karen Hartley

Founder – Hartwood Hub