WHEN Genevieve Murray offered to help a neighbour to secure and move into a new housing commission home, she got more than she bargained for.
''Walls dripped with 34 years' worth of smokers' tar, floorboards were rotting, carpets were worn, a vent was blocked and the stench was foul,'' the architect said of the Redfern terrace.
Ms Murray, 33, rallied a team of 19 volunteers and over three days they turned the home around - bringing her stolen generations neighbour to tears.
The 66-year-old, who wishes to be known only as Roslyn, was overwhelmed as carpets were stripped, walls painted, floors fixed and light fittings replaced in a clean-up operation that transformed the two-bedroom cottage.
Ms Murray befriended Roslyn after moving into the area in 2005 and she wanted to help after learning of Roslyn's plight to find a suitable home.
Roslyn was taken from her family at 10 months and grew up in Cootamundra. She entered a family home as ''live-in help'' before being in an abusive marriage, Ms Murray said.
A one-bedroom unit in Redfern was Roslyn's home for many years but visiting children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren forced her to seek something larger. She was offered the terrace in Phillip Street - described by Ms Murray as ''unlivable'' - or to join the end of another long waiting list.
''I immediately offered my help,'' said Ms Murray, 33, who then appealed to friends to lend their time, effort and expertise.
She estimated the team spent $2000 on materials. Specially reduced Murobond paint was bought by a well-wisher and the team are looking for a carpet fitter to help with carpet donated by Gibbon Group. Stylist Megan Morton contributed recycled pendants for the living room and bedroom - and an electrician to fit them - while another friend donated lunch and snacks from her company, Real Food.
Tim Magdalino, a 43-year-old craftsman from Paddington, was on painting duty and said the day left him tired but buoyant.
''It was about being generous without throwing money at a situation,'' said the busy father of two, who believes giving time is more generous than making a cash donation.
''Roslyn's story moved me. Here is a woman who has been systematically let down by the system. To get to the stage when someone is genuinely surprised when someone is doing something nice for them is indicative of the situation,'' he said.
Ms Murray agreed.
''She said with teary eyes that this is the first time in her life that someone has done something nice for her - she's had the same pair of shoes for the past four years that are falling apart because she can't afford new ones,'' she said.
A Housing NSW spokesman said nearly $4000 was spent on restoring the property and that a ''property condition report, completed and returned by the tenant after she moved in, outlined minor general wear and tear issues''.
Tenants are encouraged to take pride in their homes, he said.
Ms Murray has seen a different side to the equation.
''It's opened my eyes to a can of worms and needs. It's frightening - it's really basic stuff. As an architect, I know the difference that a house makes to the quality of a life and how people feel about themselves,'' she said.
''With very little money but a little energy and a duty of care, tenants can be afforded a basic standard of living.''
Roslyn is set to move into her fresh new home this weekend.
The story Renovation rescue helps paper over cracks in public housing first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.