Managing social housing waiting lists and encouraging people to exit social housing is a key concern for policy-makers, but transitioning into Australia’s private rental market is largely inaccessible and unaffordable for households on low incomes, new research shows.
The latest AHURI research has found there are limited pathways for tenants to leave social housing, even for those who want to.
“Government policies to move people through and out of social housing won’t be effective unless there are strong improvements to security of tenure and affordability for these tenants as they move into the private rental market,” Report author from the University of Tasmania Dr Kathleen Flanagan said.
“Many of the tenants we interviewed did not feel they had any option but to stay in social housing, considering themselves unable, financially and otherwise, to negotiate the private rental market.
The research, ‘understanding the experience of social housing pathways’, explores the ways very low income households experience pathways into, within and out of the Australian social housing system.
“In practical terms, for many tenants there are no feasible pathways out of social housing to another form of housing. Instead, the social housing system is seen as a destination,” Flanagan said.
Despite Australia's recent housing market downturn, housing affordability has plummeted across the past decade.
The annual housing affordability report by Demographia international, released last week described Australia's five major housing markets as “severely unaffordable” with property prices doubling since the early 2000s.
“Despite what has been called the largest Sydney price reduction in 35 years, house prices relative to incomes are more than double the rate of the early 1980s,” report authors Wendell Cox and Hugh Pavletich said.
Australia is home to a shortfall of 433,400 social housing dwellings, a figure that is anticipated to grow over time without direct investment, research figures show.
In 2016, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that up to 116,000 people across Australia were homeless.
The AHURI report notes that waiting lists are long amid growing demand for social housing, often from people with complex and specialised support needs.
“Significant change in the level of government investment is needed to fill the supply gap, but currently there is little prospect of that occurring,” the report states.
“If policies to encourage or enforce transitions out of social housing and into the private rental market are to be promoted, then housing providers should make sure adequate support is available at all stages of the process: before, during and after a move is made,” Flanagan said of the research findings.
“In addition, there needs to be private rental housing that is affordable and secure that tenants can move into.”
This report, undertaken for AHURI by researchers from University of Tasmania, Swinburne University of Technology, The University of Adelaide and The University of New South Wales, interviewed social housing tenants and ex-tenants, and social housing providers across New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania.
Tenant participants were recruited from a pool of three cohorts: older people, people with disability and families with children.
Of the tenants interviewed, most had experienced major housing instability prior to accessing social housing, including homelessness; domestic and family violence; financial stress; and high levels of household mobility.