March 2017

96 APAC / March 2017 , 1701AP33 From Humble Beginnings Steve Bevington of CHL explains in depth the challenges faced in the sustainable housing space and how the firmhas sought to overcome these. Community Housing Limited (CHL) is a not for profit unlisted public company which owns seven subsidiaries; two of which operate in Australia and the remaining five in Chile, India, Papua New Guinea, Peru and Timor Leste. The CHL group of companies develops and provides affordable housing to those most in need and those who find it challenging to secure long term housing in the market. Steve Bevington who heads up the company tells us a little more about the firm and the services it offers. “In some places we work there are inadequate levels of employment which reduce the capacity of people to meet necessary housing payments and therefore we also run training programs, often in the construction or housing maintenance industries, which provide a source of ongoing employment. This further enhances the ability of households to ensure the sustainability of their housing. Further to this some communities are not always sufficiently cohesive to provide a stable place to live safely and sustainably so in these communities we create programs to assist in greater community cohesion.” The business was incorporated in 1993 in Victoria, Australia where it grew over its first ten years to provide around 600 affordable rental houses designed, constructed and managed by 38 staff across Victoria, with annual turnover of $8 million and a surplus (profit) of $0.5 million. Since then CHL has steadily expanded its business to be operational in all six States with more than 6,000 affordable rental houses across Australia, around 200 staff (174 EFT) with some 300 employees working in Chile and Timor Leste to construct housing. And is now well recognised as one of the largest community housing providers in the country. In the last financial year the company’s turnover was $80 million with an annual surplus of $10 million demonstrating that the organisation has grown exponentially in the past 12 years and continues to gather pace as it seeks to meet the housing needs of those dislocated in the market across four regions of the world. Steve elaborates on the approach taken to develop the company effectively and ensure its success. “The company operates through strong, transparent governance principles and is regulated by a range of Australian and international corporate, government and not for profit regulators. As such it offers firm platform to gather partners together to deliver housing to the less well off. CHL has always developed housing through partnering with other organisations focussed on meeting peoples’ housing needs whether these are governments, housing developers, financiers or fellow community organisations. CHL has more than 300 ongoing partnerships across Australia and overseas which have survived over the years to continue this shared goal. “Other core principles are that CHL as the parent company is a not for profit social enterprise which seeks to develop housing which is good quality but at a lower cost than the market. It generates modest surpluses (profits) which are not distributed to shareholders but reinvested in generating more housing for those in need. This housing is of good quality, well located and priced at a level where housing payments for lower income people are no more than 30% of household income. Whilst CHL does not distribute its profits to shareholders, it will partner with private developers and financiers which have a mandate to generate profit as long as that partnership is able to create a lower cost of housing to the end consumer. “CHL is able to generate good quality housing at a cost lower than market by exploring and utilising new construction technology which delivers housing more cheaply and quickly than via traditional means; opens up avenues by which people who have been unable to secure credit or government subsidies are able to do so; and source land and provide tenure approaches which reduce the investment necessary to develop housing.” Steve himself is from humble beginnings and he tells us that from early adulthood he lived in insecure housing and was even homeless at times. The overall impact this had on Steve is what motivates him and keeps him positive in order to achieve success. “It taught me that access to good quality, long term housing priced to one’s ability to pay was essential for one’s life development,” he states. “If I am able to be instrumental in providing this to more people who otherwise don’t have it then I remain motivated and positive. Luckily CHL’s development has encouraged me to believe that it has an increasing capacity to meet these goals.” Steve tells us that, when the company first began, there were very few effective providers of any note in Australia. However, the industry has seen monumental changes over the years. “CHL has taken its responsibility as a sector leader seriously and sought to collaborate and support the growth of industry associations at state and national levels. This has created a strong, vibrant, diverse and competitive community housing sector which has been able to reverse the decline of affordable housing in the country which was evident during the 1990s and 2000s.