Safe, adequate, affordable and appropriate housing is critical to health, wellbeing, and social and economic security. However, many Australians cannot find housing in the private market, and the social housing system is under-resourced and manifestly unable to meet demand. In response to this, there is emerging interest in whether reconceptualising social housing as a form of essential infrastructure might help to attract additional investment, especially from private sector sources. The case for social housing as infrastructure rests on the following findings.
- Social housing can more strongly position itself as a form of infrastructure by making better use of infrastructure policy conventions, including cost-benefit analysis and business cases.
- Government intervention in response to significant housing needs, challenges and failures in the Australian housing market is both reasonable and warranted, but the true extent of the problem needs to be accurately recognised as extending beyond the margins of the market.
- Government budget priorities—in particular the lack of priority given to social housing—are the principal reasons for the lack of investment in the Australian social housing system.
- There is a strong historical precedent for the Australian social housing system as a contributor to economic growth and productivity, and as providing the basis for a decent and equitable society.
Although the case can be made that social housing is infrastructure, this is not sufficient for making the case for social housing.
- Policy makers need to make better use of cost-benefit analysis techniques and other methods for making the business case for social housing, while ensuring that those aspects of social housing that are not easily quantified or monetised are not overlooked or excluded.
- Policy makers, together with academics, providers, advocates and tenant groups, need to advance stronger arguments in favour of direct government involvement in the provision and financing of social and affordable housing that focus on the achievement of a broader set of social and economic purposes.
‘Housing can obviously be seen as infrastructure in that it allows labour to be productive. In particular it affects productivity through agglomeration economies—the size and density of populations housed impacts the costs of commuting, public health, ageing, and childhood development and learning.’ Dr Kathleen Flanagan, University of Tasmania.
This report contains the findings of the supporting research project A conceptual analysis of social housing as infrastructure, a component of the AHURI Inquiry into Social housing as infrastructure.