Disadvantaged places in urban Australia: analysing socio-economic diversity and housing market performance

23 Jul 2014

Spatial concentrations of socially and economically disadvantaged people, particularly in large cities, have been the subject of considerable policy debates in Australia over the past 30 years. A variety of terms have been used in these debates including: urban poverty, locational disadvantage, socio-economic disadvantage, social exclusion and concentrations of welfare dependency. There is ongoing debate on the main causes and consequences of such concentrations, the ways they can be conceptualised and measured, and the best courses of action for governments in addressing the ‘problems’ of such localities.

Against this policy backdrop, the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) funded a research program ‘Addressing concentrations of disadvantage’ focused on Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, the three most populous cities in Australia, which centred on three broad and interrelated issues:

 How concentrations of social disadvantage have been conceptualised and how this relates to our broader understanding of the operation and impacts of housing and urban systems.

 The impacts of spatial disadvantage and the importance of housing and place in mediating the incidence and experience of residents of disadvantaged areas.

 How policy, practitioners and communities can respond to spatial disadvantage in ‘best for people, best for place’ terms.

The research program comprised inter-related research projects generating a series of linked publications.

The first output, a wide-ranging literature review (Pawson et al. 2012), discussed the various concepts applied to the analysis of spatially concentrated disadvantage. Focusing mainly on Australian evidence and discussions but also making links with international urban poverty/urban renewal debates, it reported that—although less intense than in some other countries—distinct spatial concentrations of social disadvantage persisted in Australia’s major cities. However, the measurement and mapping of this phenomenon has until now remained limited. Equally, while it has already been demonstrated that such characteristics are not confined to public housing estates, the way that housing markets are associated with disadvantage in these localities remains little known or understood.

In this second publication from the research program, we seek to develop a detailed spatial analysis of the incidence and distribution of areas of concentrated urban disadvantage and to enhance understanding of Australian housing and urban systems. We report on detailed empirical research which enables an evidence-based understanding of the role of housing markets in this process that can underpin the formulation of housing and other public policies.

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