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One Million Australians Live In Poor-Quality Housing

1 September 2016 at 11:31 am
Ellie Cooper
More than one million Australians are living in poor-quality housing, which could see slums emerge almost 100 years after they were eradicated.

Ellie Cooper | 1 September 2016 at 11:31 am


One Million Australians Live In Poor-Quality Housing
1 September 2016 at 11:31 am

More than one million Australians are living in poor-quality housing, which could see slums emerge almost 100 years after they were eradicated.

Apartment block

Research from the University of Adelaide, using data from the Household Income and Labour Dynamics survey, found more than 100,000 Australians lived in very poor or derelict dwellings.

Lead author Associate Professor Emma Baker told Pro Bono Australia News disadvantaged groups were most likely to be impacted.

“The problem of poor-condition housing isn’t spread evenly across the population,” Baker said.

“It tends to be focused on people with existing illnesses and disability, renters – it’s a big problem in the rental housing market, that’s both private renters and social housing tenants are over represented in poor quality housing – and then there’s people with low incomes.”

Co-author Professor Andrew Beer, from the University of South Australia, said the conditions were more prevalent than previously thought and could give rise to slums.

“Australia saw off the last of its slums in the late 1940s, but the same conditions that gave rise to substandard housing in the 19th century are returning in the 21st century, with a likely similar outcome,” Beer said.

“The confronting reality is that we have a sizeable ‘hidden fraction’ of Australians living in poor housing, and many of our most vulnerable have the double disadvantage of also having housing conditions that we might deem as falling below an acceptable standard.”

Baker said: “Housing slums used to be common in the inner parts of major Australian cities, as well as in many country towns. Thankfully, government intervention, economic prosperity, and tenancy laws all improved housing conditions across Australia, and within a century the majority of our population benefited from good housing and high rates of home ownership.”

But she said the marco conditions which previously created slums were returning, including the main driver of housing affordability.

“Affordability problems make people trade off other things like the quality of their dwelling,” she said.

“So there are some big things that probably need to happen in the housing market, and one of the things we could do is maybe focus initially on the rental sector and give people a little bit more security over the quality of their dwellings in that sector, in the private rental sector largely.

“I know it won’t be a nice story to mum and dad investors, but I think that a little bit more regulation of the quality of housing in the private rental sector might be a good first step.”

She said the research was still in it’s early days, so far only highlighting the existence of “a significant – and currently little known – population of individuals living in extremely poor conditions”.

“When you look at the big data, look at the averages across Australia, we’ve actually all got pretty good housing, reasonable standard, not much housing is over 100 years old,” she said.

“So the motivation for this study was to say, ok well is there a housing conditions problem in Australia?

“We’ve done a small analysis… and what we end up with is a surprising number of people who are living in what appeared to be quite poor-quality dwellings.

“It’s really just an initial study to get an idea of what the problem is before we go in and do more detailed studies.

“It’s a call to arms to say, there’s a problem in Australia that we don’t know about at the moment, and let’s just start measuring it and then doing something about it.”

She said the last time the Australian Bureau of Statistics conducted a housing conditions survey was in 1999, but her team is now funded by the Australian Research Council to do a larger study.

But she said a lack of housing standards made research difficult.

“We don’t really have a minimum housing standard in Australia, so we’ve never really discussed what is a minimum standard, what is poor-quality housing, so it’s actually a really difficult thing to define for us at the moment,” she said.

The HILDA data was based on interviewers assessing the exterior quality of a dwelling. Baker said she would like data that examines interior conditions.

The study also highlighted a link between poor-quality housing and health and wellbeing.

“We know that people have collections of things which make it unhealthy for them to live in – so damp housing or housing that’s structurally unsound, even unaffordable housing has measurable health effects and wellbeing effects,” Baker said.

“There’s a series of fantastic studies coming out of New Zealand at the moment… where they’ve been able to… show that children living in damp, cold houses actually miss a certain number of days of school and of course there’s implications of that as well.

“There’s the direct health and wellbeing impacts, but there’s probably health impacts which are passed down across generations.”

The research was published in the Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community.

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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