Steve Bevington began his housing affordability journey in the late 70s in London, when he started a housing cooperative with some friends. Fast forward almost 40 years, and he now oversees Australia’s largest community housing organisation with operations in South America, South East Asia, South Asia and, most recently, Africa.
It’s been quite the ride, given Community Housing Limited (CHL) was a company only on paper when he began working there as its first employee in 1994. It was set up to cater to tenants whose needs would not be met by Victoria’s existing community housing organisations, which, at that time, specialised in certain cohorts such as elderly tenants, crisis housing or those with a disability or housing models such as housing cooperatives.
‘By November 17, CHL will manage 11,000 houses, which is more than double the next provider within our sector, and we’re the only organisation that operates across all six states. However, whilst that is substantial in Australia, it’s still not a substantial organisation in European terms,’ Steve says.
CHL has also expanded overseas, with operations in Timor-Leste, Chile, Peru, India, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and, as of this year, Rwanda.
‘The general strategy is to work in South East Asia, South Asia, South America, and sub-Saharan Africa. It took us many years to get to sub-Saharan Africa…Africa was always going to be the hardest, and it is, although the others are pretty hard too to be honest,’ Steve says.
Whilst the overseas operations are, overall, relatively small and new, they are important, he says.
‘If you look at Australia, in reality 10 per cent of people are in high housing need, of which only about 3.5 per cent are being served. If you’re looking at the other countries, you’re talking about 60, 70, 80 per cent.
‘I think for all the difficulties we have in Australia, we’re still a lucky country, and a country where the majority of the people are in pretty good nick. The question is: Does one have a broader social conscience? Is one’s mission based on Australia?’
In Australia, the biggest challenge facing community housing is to cement its place as the natural solution to resolving the housing needs of people through social and affordable housing but Steve is confident that community housing will grow as an industry, and CHL with it.
‘I see CHL as being 10 per cent of a growing sector,’ Steve says.
‘Since 1997, which was the year CHL became sustainable, it’s had an average 21.5 per cent exponential growth per year. That’s been for the last 20 years. I would expect that to continue. That would be the aspiration, and we will hope that the sector will grow with us at the same pace.’
Reflecting on his time in community housing, Steve says, ‘I’m most proud of being an active participant in the formation of a sector that has reversed the 20 year decline in actual numbers of housing for people in need (even though it’s a smaller proportion population wise). The community housing sector has done that, and CHL has been a very active participant, along with other organisations.
‘However, I think we could end up being much more proud of the things we do overseas… CHL is an organisation that produces ideas, projects, and frameworks, which we seek to be copied by other organisations and if you look at what we would hope to do in Africa, our first project will be 1,200 houses or so. If we can be copied by others in Africa, then this could form a basis of housing for the emerging affordable housing needs for a billion people or so.’