Understanding the experience of social housing pathways

Kathleen Flanagan, Iris Levin, Selina Tually, Meera Varadharajan, Verdouw Julia Verdouw, Debbie Faulkner, Ariella Meltzer, Anthea Vreugdenhil

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
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Australia's social housing system is under considerable pressure, with high demand but manifestly inadequate supply. In this context, governments have introduced 'pathways' frameworks to promote movement through the social housing system. This report explores tenants' experiences of and perspectives on social housing 'pathways'. Key findings include the following: • The same pressures placing the social housing system under strain also constrain the housing pathways of low-income households. For many, social housing offers the only viable source of affordable and secure housing. This reality structures households' experiences of social housing and their aspirations for the future. • Underinvestment in the social housing system has led to extreme rationing and limited the support that can reasonably be provided to tenants. Applicants and tenants therefore largely experience the social housing system as onerous, challenging and unsupportive. If social housing providers are to continue to target so exclusively to need, greater efforts must be made to implement processes that provide adequate support to applicants and residents. • Social housing tenants value their homes and communities. They regard themselves as deeply fortunate to live in social housing and in contrast to the past experiences many have had of acute housing instability, social housing provides them with profound ontological security. Their experience of being 'at home' in social housing is largely incompatible with a pathways framework. • Tenants value caring relationships with individual workers, yet many have experienced disrespectful and demeaning practices and interactions. Housing officers, especially in public housing, must be resourced and supported to prioritise care and respect in their everyday interactions with clients. • Better coordination is needed between the social housing system and other areas of human service delivery. This includes with aged care services and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), to ensure that for older tenants and people with disability, support to live independently aligns well with the provision of appropriate housing. Measures to better integrate support for tenants also need to include better engagement with employment services to assist tenants into paid work so they can increase their incomes and move out of poverty. • Tenants, and many providers, regard the role of social housing as one of providing permanent, affordable housing to low-income households and of sustaining tenancies rather than disrupting them. At present they do not consider the system to function as a transitional pathway and, largely, they do not think it should in future. This report is part of an Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) Inquiry examining how social housing pathways could be reimagined to provide more effective assistance for low-income households in Australia. This research sets out to understand the ways in which individuals and households experience pathways into, within and out of the Australian social housing system. The concept of housing 'pathways' was developed by David Clapham (2002) to provide a better understanding of changes in housing consumption over time and across space. Housing pathways incorporate not just changes in tenure or dwelling, but the materiality of housing, the subjective meanings households attach to their homes, aspects of identity and lifestyle, and the relationships and discourses through which households are connected with their neighbours, communities and the whole housing system. Clapham's approach is grounded in an understanding of housing as constituted by the lived experience of relationships, space and time, and is of clear relevance to a research project exploring households' experiences of the social housing system. However, this academic conceptualisation contrasts with the meanings attached to 'pathways' within Australian housing policy. To date, social housing 'pathways' frameworks have been operationalised to contain waiting-list pressures, promote the more rational use of available stock, and encourage 'throughput' in the social housing system (Powell, Meltzer et al. 2019). These frameworks consist of measures designed to: streamline entry into the system, such as 'front door' models for application and assessment; encourage the most efficient distribution of tenants across the dwelling portfolio, including through strategies to encourage the 'downsizing' of smaller households into smaller dwelling types; and provide incentives and other mechanisms to move on from social housing for those households deemed to no longer require it due to changes in income or other circumstances. For this research, we interviewed 76 past and present tenants, along with 33 primarily frontline practitioners in the social housing sector, to obtain a better understanding of how transitions through the social housing system are enacted by tenants, and how their lived experiences interact with the structures, practices and processes of social housing providers.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationMelbourne
Number of pages116
ISBN (Electronic)9781925334876
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

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


  • Home
  • Housing pathways
  • Lived experience
  • Social housing
  • Tenants


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