The role of private rental support programs in housing outcomes for vulnerable Australians

Selina Tually, Michele Slatter, Susan Oakley, Debbie Faulkner

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


In the last two decades Australia's rental landscape has been redrawn. As social housing has become focussed on those most in need, and home ownership has become less affordable, the private rental market has become increasingly important. Many households of low or moderate means, as well as households with other vulnerabilities, must now look to the private rental sector for housing over the long term. A range of programs has emerged to assist tenants who might struggle to access or sustain a private rental tenancy. The range includes 'brokerage' programs, the principal focus of this research. Although 'brokerage' is a term frequently used within the housing sector, its meaning has not been explored, nor have the implications of brokerage programs been fully investigated. The programs are not currently captured by any standardised national reporting process, which renders them largely invisible to analysts, except at the most local level. This clearly limits their capacity to inform policy, practice and professional development nationally, despite anecdotal accounts of innovation and success. By exploring their design, impact, outcomes, costs and benefits to tenants, agencies and other partners (e.g. real estate agencies), this research will significantly advance understanding of the relationships between programs presently designed to support successful housing outcomes in the private rental market for some of Australia's most vulnerable households. For many, lower cost private rental has become their default tenure. Accordingly, private rental can no longer be characterised as merely a temporary or transitional tenure between significant life events. While there is evidence of some modest growth in supply, the changing pattern of demand ensures that access to lower cost private rental is extremely competitive. Many tenants also find great difficulty in sustaining tenancies; housing stress is widespread in the sector and is most intense within lower cost submarkets. In addition, legislation currently ensures that the private rental market is inherently precarious, even for the most capable tenants. Research has highlighted the increased risk of tenancy failure faced by vulnerable groups including Indigenous tenants, people escaping domestic violence, humanitarian arrivals, people living with a disability, youth and older Australians. The discussion in Chapter 2 specifically reviews the factors that are re-shaping the private rental sector and highlights in particular their implications for vulnerable households seeking long-term accommodation in low-cost private rental. The fact that the private sector now has to accommodate a greater number and proportion of vulnerable households than has been the case in the past has seen governments and the not-for-profit sector develop and evolve a range of supports to encourage successful private tenancies and thus act preventively to avoid homelessness. These supports are designed to assist households who experience problems in accessing and/or sustaining a private tenancy. In this research we term such programs collectively Private Rental Support Programs or Private Rental Supports. This portmanteau term includes the key assistance measures delivered by the Australian Government and state and territory governments under the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA), as well as a range of less-examined programs delivered by state/territory governments or, more usually, by the not-for-profit sector. These supports include:Commonwealth Rent Assistance. Supports referred to by governments as Private Rent Assistance measures. The National Rental Affordability Scheme. Other quasi- or non-government programs delivered by the not-for-profit sector. This research surveys the range of assistance measures provided under the banner of Private Rental Supports. Chapter 3 provides this overview, sketching the context for the principal subject of the study: a focussed examination of Private Rental Brokerage Programs (PRBPs), a significant component of the fourth category above. PRBPs are a little examined and poorly understood assistance measure. Accordingly as a starting point for investigation of these programs, this research provides a working definition of such programs, positing that: Private Rental Brokerage Programs are a flexible, early-intervention housing assistance measure designed to support vulnerable households as successful tenants in the private rental market, thereby avoiding eviction and homelessness. To achieve this such programs work with clients to optimise their success in accessing and sustaining private rental tenancies. This work may involve building tenancy capacity, helping access financial or material assistance, connecting with other relevant services, providing a degree of ongoing support or otherwise as the individual case and resources require. There is no uniform reporting framework that defines PRBPs or captures comprehensive data on their incidence and outcomes. As a consequence they have been somewhat overlooked: the extent of their total contribution is difficult to gauge and they have been under-researched. Anecdotal evidence nevertheless indicates widespread recognition of brokerage programs within the sector and suggests they are proliferating. Brokerage resonates with current policies shaping the delivery of a range of social services. A shift in the relationship between institutions and individual agency (Beck 2001) has precipitated a rapid reformulation of service design and delivery in emerging approaches to social care and accountability currently favoured by policy Vmakers in several Western countries. In Australia, brokerage support is not confined to the private rental sector. Examples of brokerage models of support are emerging in a number of different contexts, including as part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and current aged sector reforms such as the move to a Consumer Directed Care (CDC) model. Chapter 4 outlines current understandings of brokerage programs in Australia and internationally. These indicate that in the Australian housing sector brokerage programs have emerged over recent years in order to more fully support the needs of struggling tenants in the housing market. The limited literature on them suggests that brokerage is considered a useful, flexible, means to support vulnerable tenants in avoiding homelessness or re-engaging with the housing market after periods of housing instability and consequent social exclusion. However, it also indicates that the term has been used to cover a variety of somewhat diverse services. Current trends in policy and service delivery already seen in other areas of social services may encourage a more uniform understanding in future. Chapter 4 proposes a tentative working definition of brokerage in the housing context that can be explored and tested in the second, empirical, part of the research. This Positioning Paper is the first output of a study designed to shed light on the present role of brokerage programs and their role in the private rental housing market. The study will address five core research questions: What are PRBPs, and what are their roles and features nationally and internationally? Do PRBPs consistently assist vulnerable Australians to access private rental and if so, how? Do private rental brokerage programs contribute efficiently and effectively to clients successfully maintaining private rental tenancies? Is there any evidence that PRBPs improve clients' tenancy capability and competitiveness in the long term and/or achieve other social inclusion outcomes? How do PRBPs dovetail with broader Private Rental Supports to affect housing outcomes for vulnerable Australians? The Positioning Paper presents the results of the first stage of the research, setting the context for the research by drawing together our initial findings about private rental supports in Australia generally (and internationally, where relevant), and PRBPs specifically. These findings are drawn from a desk-based review of the scant relevant grey and academic literature. The next phase of this project will utilise a conventional mix of social science research methods as outlined in Chapter 5 to meet the project aim of investigating the role of PRBPs in supporting vulnerable Australians to successfully access and sustain housing in the private rental market. The study will apply a mixed method approach, collecting quantitative and qualitative data from statistical reports, interview/focus groups, stakeholder forums and texts. The research methods chosen have been carefully designed to answer the five core research questions. They will deliver a fine-grained understanding of the structure and purpose of private rental brokerage programs, the detail of their operation, the outcomes achieved and the client groups whom they assist. They will also illuminate the impact of changing market conditions on the need for, and effectiveness of, such programs. In this way the project aims to fill a strategic gap in current knowledge. It will capture and reflect the complex pattern of brokerage assistance which exists to support vulnerable Australian households in accessing and sustaining private rental housing, avoiding homelessness and reducing pressure on social housing. The project will also investigate any benefits to be achieved by the modification, extension, expansion or standardisation of brokerage programs within the suite of Private Rental Support Programs available across Australia. An understanding of their design, their strengths and any weaknesses is particularly timely in light of the changing role and composition of the private rental market (Stone et al. 2013) and the tide of policy change that will likely see brokerage playing an increasingly prominent role across the social services.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Role of Private Rental Support Programs in Housing Outcomes for Vulnerable Australians
EditorsAnne Badenhorst
PublisherAustralian Housing and Urban Research Institute
Number of pages72
ISBN (Electronic)9781922075796
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2015
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameAHURI Positioning Paper
ISSN (Electronic)1834-9250


Dive into the research topics of 'The role of private rental support programs in housing outcomes for vulnerable Australians'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this