Approximately 75,000 Australians live in boarding houses and caravan parks, and the majority of these are highly disadvantaged. While some households choose these forms of housing for reasons of lifestyle or location, they often serve as “housing of last resort” for individuals and households who are on the verge of homelessness.
Evidence on supply trends in these sectors is mixed. Formal sources of data, most of them incomplete, report either small declines in supply or a steady state. Those working in the field, however, have consistently reported continued loss of stock.
In the areas of tenancy protection, health and safety standards and licensing of operators, legislation varies widely between states and territories. There are some good models of regulation, particularly of the boarding house industry, but in much of the country regulatory systems are weak and residents receive little legal protection. Even when stronger regulatory systems are in place, many operators are able to avoid engagement with them.
The market in both boarding houses and caravan parks is changing, with newer and comparatively more “up-market” developments catering for households on low to moderate incomes, and the emergence of an unregulated suburban boarding industry which often appears to exploit its residents.
Social housing providers have a good record of providing better quality, more affordable boarding house style housing and, to a lesser extent, caravan parks. Their role is crucial in improving the lives of highly vulnerable residents and preventing or responding to homelessness.
Policy initiatives in the areas of regulation, supply, social support and research have the potential to make major improvements in the lives of highly vulnerable residents.