Govt & Media Blamed for Social Housing Stigma
28 April 2011 at 12:35 pm
Social housing neighbourhoods are stigmatised because government policies have worked to congregate socially disadvantaged people in social housing neighbourhoods while under-investing in the tenure, according to a new report.
The reports found at the same time, that the media has portrayed these neighbourhoods as a haven for criminals and the welfare dependent.
The report, called The Stigmatisation of Social Housing: findings from a panel investigation, is by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI)
The authors (Keith Jacobs, Kathy Arthurson, Natasha Cica, Anna Greenwood and Annette Hastings) argue that social housing organisations need to better employ the media to highlight the good effects of social housing, and educate the public about inequities in the housing system.
They say there are complex reasons as to why social housing neighbourhoods are subject to popular vilification. These neighbourhoods are usually seen, not as a symptom of social inequity, but as a contributory factor that heightens social disadvantage, commonly viewed as havens for crime and sites for policy interventions that reinforce cultures of welfare dependency.
From this perspective, the authors say the primary reason for why social housing has become so stigmatised can be traced to government policies that have limited access to those households with acute needs.
As a consequence, the vast majority of tenants now residing in social housing are there because they have no other options.
The authors say this ‘reality’ informs the wider public’s understanding of social housing and acts as a brake on attempts by state housing authorities, tenants’ groups and welfare lobbyists to highlight the positive contribution made by social housing.
The report says there are practical steps that social housing agencies can undertake to mitigate the effects of stigmatisation, particularly in relation to media reporting. For example, they might seek to establish professional contacts with senior journalists with a view to ensuring more positive accounts of social housing.
Also, the report says new virtual media provides an opportunity for tenants’ organisations and lobbyists to counteract negative stories of social housing.
The report says there are gaps in knowledge relating to the understanding of social housing and its problematic reputation.
It says there is a need for research that makes explicit the wider ‘politics’ of housing and how, in particular, the subsidy and taxation arrangements reinforce the divide between well-off home owners and rental investors on the one hand and low income social housing and private rental tenants on the other.
The authors say attempts by state housing authorities to address the problems that arise in disadvantaged social housing neighbourhoods can only have a limited impact so long as this divide remains in place.
Finally, the report says there is a conundrum that all welfare and social housing agencies face when taking steps to mitigate the effects of stigma.
It says campaigns that draw attention to the problems of social housing can inadvertently reinforce prejudice and stigma. On the other hand, positive stories are less likely to attract the attention of policy-makers and entice the release of new revenue streams.
Consequently, the report says campaigners seeking to improve social housing need to remain vigilant to the way information is interpreted by policy-makers and the public at large.
The report can be download at http://www.apo.org.au/research/stigmatisation-social-housing-findings-panel-investigation