Housing Association chief retiring after 27 years speaks out about funding pressures

Stephen Javes. Picture: Anthony Cullen

Stephen Javes. Picture: Anthony Cullen - Credit: Archant

Shortage of funding makes it harder for the housing sector to deliver, says retiring housing chief

When Stephen Javes started at Orwell Housing Group, the organisation had 15 staff, 800 homes and a £750,000 turnover.

On Friday, he leaves it in rather a different shape; as a much more diverse provider, with 4,500 dwellings, a £50m turnover and 800 people on its payroll.

His Ipswich-based organisation now provides dwellings for people in housing need, including hostels and specialist accommodation for older people, those with learning disabilities and people fleeing domestic abuse.

But it’s a very different funding landscape from when he first came on board in 1991, when John Major was leader, and Orwell was essentially a traditional housing association that just provided general needs housing.

“The really big change I’ve seen in terms of the development side is the government investment,” he explained. “In the early days, it was substantial. They grant funded the sector and we borrowed money from the bank.

“If you took £100,000 house, the government’s interest in it from grant funding was £80,000 and we borrowed £20,000 from the bank.

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“In the current climate, that is the other way around, so we’re borrowing £80,000 and getting £20,000 grant funding.

“That’s been a gradual transition over time. But with the current regime, we are finally seeing a slight reversal of that.”

Last week, Theresa May announced that the government will provide £2bn in funding to help build affordable homes from 2022, which will be allocated for a period of up to 10 years, longer than the common three to four years.

The associations will have to bid for these funds.

“I think there is realisation that they need to put in more grant funding, because our capacity to borrow is not a bottomless pit,” said Mr Javes. “There is now realisation that it’s necessary to buy more homes - because everybody is talking about lack of housing supply, and we are really seeing it through our sector.”

Mr Javes admitted that there are now more and more pressures in the care sector. “We are being asked to do more and more for less and less and it gets trickier to deliver services to our customers,” he said.

Stephen has long been an advocate of partnership working, and this has led to Orwell being the lead partner in the e² development consortium bringing together traditional housing associations, large scale voluntary transfer associations, local authorities and an Arms-Length Management Organisation (ALMO). They have all worked in partnership to increase the amount of affordable housing being provided with in East Anglia in a cost-efficient way, sharing resources and knowledge.

This partnership is currently delivering some 1,000 homes across the region.

Over the years, Stephen has sat on the boards of many local organisations such as Mencap, Stonham, Housing 21, the North East Suffolk Citizens Advice Bureau (NESCAB), St John’s Housing Trust (now Access Community Trust) and was the chair of the board of Eastern Procurement Limited.

Currently he is Chair of Community Action Suffolk, as well as, being a member of the Suffolk Strategic Housing Partnership and the East Suffolk Partnership Board.

But the biggest highlight of his career, he explained, was “watching people who work for us turning from naive and fresh behind the ears into really fantastic professionals, many of whom are now managers and directors.”

“That’s what I am most proud of.”

Mr Javes will hand the reins over to Wendy Evans-Hendrick, his colleague of 25 years who is currently director of development and property services. He feels he is leaving the organisation in safe hands.

“Wendy will be a great leader, she has the knowledge and skills to drive the business further forward. Whilst I’m sure there will be changes she will continue to build on the success and the positive culture of the business. I wish her every success.”

Mr Javes plans to spend more time now with his family, and ever growing number of grandchildren. “One of my offspring is about to have two and hoping they will keep coming,” he said.