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This study confirmed that existing official performance measures of Australia’s social housing services are inadequate to measure efficiency and effectiveness. Working closely with six larger community housing providers and two public housing providers, the research team developed and trialled a new performance framework. This involved collecting data for social housing expenditure, conducting workshops with managers and staff, and surveying recent tenants.
The researchers found the proposed framework be immediately applicable for large community housing providers. Public housing providers encountered more obstacles in applying the model, including specifying boundaries of housing management, and capturing back office costs.
An advantage of the new framework is that it seeks to capture all aspects of the work of social housing providers from providing efficient and effective tenancy and property management services through to enhancing tenants’ welfare and quality of life. For example, across the community housing case studies, 81 per cent of management outlay went to tenancy and property management, and only 19 per cent on individual support or tenant and community services. Nevertheless, the study also showed that case study community housing providers were more able to support their tenants to reduce rent arrears and tenancy complaints, and explore ‘place management’ and community development activities compared to larger public housing agencies. It also highlighted that few public and community housing staff felt they could prioritise employment or training opportunities for tenants.
The study also suggested improvements to outcome measures. For example, the key indicator of tenant outcomes in social housing is tenancy sustainment, but this could be improved by limiting its focus to ‘at risk’ tenancies. Similarly, present indicators of tenant employment outcomes could be improved by limiting measurement to those that are ‘work capable’ (factors, e.g. disabilities and pregnancy contribute to social housing access but bias employment participation downwards).
Robust information on efficiency and effectiveness of social housing is essential for public accountability. The framework and metrics proposed in this study offer a way forward and, despite challenges in implementation in the public sector, would illuminate public debates around subsidy of social housing, and could be implemented with government leadership and coordination.