Housing assistance, social inclusion and people living with a disability

Selina Tually, Andrew Beer, Pauline McLoughlin

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


This Final Report outlines the findings of research addressing two pressing conceptual and policy challenges: 1. What impact does housing assistance have on social inclusion for people with disabilities? 2. How can governments ensure that they maximise the social inclusion benefits from the housing assistance they provide now and into the future? Investigation of the nexus between housing assistance and social inclusion for people living with a disability is important because of the introduction of a clear whole-of-government social inclusion imperative in government-funded and supported programs. It is also important given the widespread and ongoing concerns about the capacity of the housing system to meet underlying demand for affordable and appropriate housing, especially for vulnerable individuals. In order to address the overarching research questions, a two-stage methodology was employed. The first stage of the research involved a literature and policy review to set the context for the research and to highlight what we already know about disability and housing generally. This review and analysis is presented in the Positioning Paper for the project. For the second stage of the project, reported in this Final Report, primary data were collected from people living with a disability receiving housing assistance and representatives of agencies supporting people living with a disability. Participants in the research had a range of types and levels of disability, within the target groups of cognitive, psychological, physical/mobility and sensory disability or impairment. Most participants were social housing tenants or private renters in receipt of CRA. Some 98 interviews were conducted with people living with a disability for the research, as well as a small number of focus groups with people living with a disability and service providers. Interviews and focus groups were conducted in three states: NSW, SA and Victoria. The focus of the data collection for the second stage of the project centred on: The current housing situation of people living with a disability, as well as their housing histories and experiences, housing and support needs and the impact of their disability on their housing. The general level of social and economic participation of people living with a disability, including their satisfaction with their connectedness to the community, services, employment, family and friends, and their thoughts around their ability to deal with a crisis and have their voice heard. The importance of the concept of social inclusion to participants, and their daily life. Participants thoughts around social inclusion/exclusion, satisfaction with their social inclusion outcomes, and perspectives on individual and structural barriers to social inclusion, particularly those who stemming from their disability. The role of housing assistance in promoting social inclusion/affecting social exclusion, and the impact of other considerations and issues on social inclusion/exclusion, for example, support needed, social networks, et cetera. Central to this research was giving a voice to people living with a disability. This voice is clearly represented throughout the rest of this document, and shows the importance of housing assistance for the social inclusion, health and wellbeing of people living with a disability. In addressing the guiding research questions about the nexus between social inclusion and housing assistance for people living with a disability, the research pays specific attention to the individual level factors identified by participants as shaping their disability and housing (or homelessness) experiences. It also notes how these factors-type and severity of disability, economic resources and disadvantage, life circumstances and neighbourhood issues and safety concerns-have impacted on, or reinforced, their personal wellbeing and social inclusion/exclusion. The discussion clearly notes that housing is an important part of the life experiences of people living with a disability, and one that can, and has, exerted sometimes contradictory impacts on the life circumstances. For some individuals at some time, it has served as an important resource and stabiliser in their lives, while for others, it has served to constrain their opportunities and limit their capacity for social inclusion. From the discussion, it is evident that many participants are trapped within a complex web of competing pressures, with their wellbeing outcomes and levels of functioning and inclusion in mainstream society and its institutions shaped by factors not always within their control. On the whole, the research finds that housing assistance has a very substantial impact on the social inclusion of people with a disability in Australia. It has a number of positive impacts: Housing assistance provides stability in the lives of people living with a disability who would otherwise be vulnerable to a range of negative circumstances and who may otherwise have no sense of control over their lives. Housing assistance helps people with a disability deal with other crises in their lives-health, family relationships, monetary concerns et cetera-and adds to their resilience and independence. Housing assistance reduces the exposure of people with a disability to very high housing costs and the risk of eviction. It reduces both vulnerability to homelessness and the experience of (recurrent) homelessness. In the absence of housing assistance, it is almost certain that significantly larger numbers of people living with a disability would experience homelessness, and its most acute manifestation-rough sleeping. Housing assistance makes it more likely that people with a disability will enter and remain in paid employment. This has social inclusion benefits both for the individual and broader society. Housing assistance, in some instances, can help people with a disability find a voice within their community by equipping them with advocacy skills and providing stability in life, which in turn enables engagement with wider social institutions. There are a number of steps governments can and should take to ensure that the social inclusion benefits arising from housing assistance to people with a disability are maximised: First and foremost, the provision of additional social housing will advance the wellbeing and social inclusion of persons with an impairment across Australia. Additional supply, targeted to this vulnerable group within society, will have significant positive impacts. Social housing provision for people with a disability should avoid creating areas of concentration of people with a disability. While acknowledging that the demand for social housing exceeds supply and the need of many people living with a disability for urgent assistance, grouping large numbers of people with a disability in one location has negative effects. The supply of social housing needs to be spread across a range of locations and neighbourhoods as much as possible. The housing occupied by people with a disability needs to meet the circumstances of the individual and their household as closely as possible. This includes modifications to the dwelling and on-going maintenance where the disability may require on-going attention. A pertinent example here is for dwellings where a wheelchair user resides. Housing assistance for people with a disability should focus on providing accommodation in places with good access to public transport in order to facilitate access to both services and employment. Housing assistance programs can and should be used as a vehicle for delivering training and community development programs that help people with a disability find their voice. Additionally, it is clear that much more needs to be done to improve outcomes for people living with a disability accommodated in the private rental market. Lessons can clearly be learned here from existing private rental support programs assisting people living with a disability specifically, such as that offered by Karingal in Geelong, as well as those assisting other vulnerable groups. Directing more resources to agencies to deliver such assistance for people living with a disability, however, should not be at the expense of further investment in social housing. It is clear that this is the best option for many people with severe disabilities and impairments, and particularly those needing specific disability-related modifications to a dwelling. The reality remains, which we still have a long way to go in developing a private rental market responsive to the disability-related needs of tenants. Regardless of the tenure focus of assistance, the findings of this small scoping study also highlights the immediate need for supports for people living with a disability, including housing assistance, to concentrate on sustaining tenancies. Social inclusion outcomes for tenants will remain sub-optimal if actions to sustain tenancies are not promoted. This is clearly a concern for those with mental health issues in particular. People with a disability and their households remain one of the most disadvantaged groups within society. Housing assistance, and especially access to social housing, is one measure that governments can take to substantially improve their wellbeing and degree of social inclusion within broader society. People with a disability should remain a priority group in the housing allocation processes of social housing providers and more attention should be paid to the interface between health services and housing.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationMelbourne
PublisherAustralian Housing and Urban Research Institute
Number of pages82
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-921610-86-8
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameAHURI Final Report
PublisherAustralian Housing and Urban Research Institute
ISSN (Print)1834-7223


  • Disability
  • Housing assistance
  • People
  • Social inclusion


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