Vulnerable People Need Greater Social Housing Support
1 March 2019 at 1:34 pm
Disadvantaged Australians are struggling to settle into social housing, with research revealing 43 per cent of residents are leaving their properties within 18 months.
The report by RMIT University and Unison Housing found that Indigenous households, young people, and those who’ve previously experienced homelessness were most likely to suffer “tenancy breakdown” because of issues transitioning into social housing.
Lead researcher Professor Guy Johnson said supporting longer tenancies for these groups was crucial because high turnover was hurting people and social housing providers.
“When people cycle through social housing, they’re not able to put down roots in the community, they’re not establishing friendships in the neighbourhood, and they’re uprooting themselves and their families to great detriment,” Johnson said.
“It’s in everyone’s best interests to reduce turnover in social housing.”
Researchers examined the records of 967 social housing tenants, just over half whom were homeless before entering housing.
Data showed 45 per cent of tenants who were previously homeless left their housing after 18 months, compared to a 26 per cent exit rate for other people and a 43 per cent rate overall.
Looking at age groups, the rate of people leaving within 18 months was highest for those aged 24 or younger (55 per cent).
The leaving rates for Indigenous households was also 11 per cent higher than the overall rate.
The report said there was limited data on the reasons for tenancy breakdown, but noted that problems paying rent and conflict with neighbors were key reasons for people leaving social housing.
It also said the difficulties faced by Indigenous people needed to be understood in the “broader context of colonisation and the dispossession of land that is integral to [their] contemporary experiences of homelessness”.
Researchers warned that high rates of tenancy breakdown undermined the ability of residents to develop strong neighborhood connections and participate in the community – a core aim of social housing in Australia.
Professor Johnson said living in social housing could be the springboard for people on low incomes to reach their full potential, providing a foundation of stability and security.
“Some people make the transition to their new housing with ease. This report reminds us that there are some people who need more intensive supports to ensure success. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach,” he said.
The report recommended that social housing providers offer information for disadvantaged groups on how to access support services, collect more personal and environmental data on tenants, and develop better relationships with support agencies working with vulnerable people.
“There is compelling evidence to warrant specific attention on [vulnerable groups] during the early stage of their tenancies,” the report said.
“Unison could record data on whether or not high-risk tenants are receiving ongoing external support, such as that provided by a Specialist Homelessness Service, at the start of their tenancy.”
Unison Housing CEO Ed Holmes said that the report offered many important lessons for governments and social housing providers.
“This research tells us that providing the housing is only part of the response to homelessness. Helping people settle in, and make that housing into a home is equally important,” Holmes said.
“Understanding the policy context is critical, too. As social housing stock has declined in Australia, housing providers are increasingly focusing on housing only the most needy and disadvantaged people in our community, which are also the people who are most likely to experience tenancy breakdown.”
This report comes after recent polling found that 68 per cent of voters supported government investment in social and affordable housing over negative gearing tax breaks for property investors.
Everybody’s Home campaign spokesperson, Kate Colvin, said housing affordability was clearly a critical issue for voters ahead of the federal election.
“Australia’s chronic shortage of social and affordable rental options means more than 800,000 households are living in serious rental stress and as a nation we now have record levels of homelessness,” Colvin said.
“Capital gains tax and negative gearing handouts for property investors are costing Australia $11.8 billion a year – money that could and should be invested instead in helping to deliver 500,000 social and affordable rental homes for [vulnerable] Australians.”