The changing reality of Australia’s social housing


Demand for social housing across Australia is growing and continues to outstrip supply.  Over the past 20 years, waiting lists have grown with only people with the most complex social, economic and health circumstances being prioritised.  There is a rising need for additional social and affordable housing.

Governments and not-for-profit community housing providers are struggling to match their available assets to meet this need.  This challenge is exacerbated by the high costs of maintaining ageing housing portfolios, changes in the demographic profile of social housing tenants and difficulties in relocating tenants from housing that is under-occupied – where housing has 2 or more bedrooms in excess of tenant requirements.

In Queensland under-occupancy is at approximately 16% of the total portfolio with intentions to reduce this to 2% over the next several years.  There is a large proportion of 3-4 bedroom dwellings that are under-occupied, while the waitlist indicates that the need is greatest for 1 and 2 bedroom dwellings.  This situation is similar across other Australian jurisdictions.


Clusters of disadvantage leading to a new model
Historically, social housing has been developed and concentrated in single tenure residential estates or complexes.  This has been one factor that has contributed to pockets of entrenched disadvantage in some small geographic areas.

Governments are now looking to regenerate these areas through changes to the built form and better utilisation. They are actively pursuing transfer of management (and in some cases titles) to the non-government sector.

In Queensland, 90% of social housing is planned to be transferred by 2020 (around 50,000 dwellings).

Other states such as NSW and SA are following, albeit with a more moderate approach.


Significant opportunities emerging for the private sector
These transfers offer significant opportunities for the private and not-for-profit sectors to provide leadership in transformational development of urban areas and benefit from improved liveability within their market areas.

Urbis has worked in a number of these areas of high density social housing over the last several years including Logan in Queensland, Bonnyrigg in Fairfield (NSW) and Airds Bradbury in Campbelltown (NSW) and found that the social housing clusters are often well situated in terms of access to public transport, activity centres and services including health and education.  Dwellings are often sited on large serviced sites, with capacity for lot reconfiguration and site maximisation.  They are in fact opportunities waiting to happen.

The changing policy and funding environment and a desire to optimise government assets present a number of opportunities for the private sector and a catalyst to community housing providers to engage.

Local government intentions around community renewal and inclusionary planning offer a potential enabler for the private sector to share their development expertise with Community Housing Providers (CHPs), while developers can potentially leverage government land in key urban sites adjacent to market-attractive residential developments.  A growing interest from institutional investors in community and affordable housing has the capacity to act as a stable base to support long term change.

This article first appeared in the Urbis Think Tank. Urbis is an interdisciplinary consulting firm offering services in planning, design, property, social planning, economics and research. Working with clients on integrated or standalone assignments, Urbis provides the social research, analysis and advice upon which major social, commercial and environmental decisions are made. With over 300 staff Urbis is uniquely positioned to handle projects from the simplest to the most complex.


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