Research Overview

The research was undertaken in 2017–18 and involved three research teams, from RMIT University, The University of New South Wales (UNSW) and University of Tasmania (UTAS), and was co-ordinated by Dr Julie Lawson. It actively engaged with an Industry Panel throughout, which provided feedback discussion papers and research presentations, informing the peer-reviewed publication of three Research Reports and a Final Inquiry Report.

Research Outcomes

Safe, adequate, affordable and appropriate housing is critical to health, wellbeing and social and economic security, but many Australians cannot find housing in the private market, and the social housing system, incorporating public and community housing, is under-resourced and manifestly unable to meet demand.

As a form of spatially fixed, materially realised capital expenditure that supports a range of social objectives in areas like public health, economic development and addressing market failure in the housing market, social housing is a form of essential social infrastructure that warrants public investment. However, political will remains the critical determinant of the level of that investment.

Policy-makers argue that cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and related business case techniques could be usefully applied to build the case for investment in social housing. However, the following factors must be considered.

  • The core benefits of social housing are not easily quantified or monetised and are thus often overlooked or excluded from such assessments. The benefits attributable to social housing, such as social inclusion, education and employment, are not measured or traded in markets. They occur over extended periods of time and are often multi-dimensional.
  • The use of public health evaluation methodologies may provide a better basis for social housing appraisal than other approaches (for example, the housing-adjusted life years approach, adapted from health economics).

Investment in other forms of social infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, is typically based on the spatial distribution of need over time. Historically, this has not been the case for social housing.

We analysed the extent and spatial distribution of need for social housing and the cost of its procurement in 88 different land and construction markets across Australia. The results show that over the next 20 years, 727,300 additional social housing dwellings will be required, with current-price procurement costs varying from $146,000 to $614,000 per dwelling, depending on local land values, building types and construction costs in different regions.

Even with efficient financing provided by the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC), there remains a considerable funding gap. We undertook financial modelling to identify the most effective strategy to address this gap, finding that needs-based capital investment (NBC) supplemented by efficient financing provides the most cost-effective pathway for Australia. A model with no upfront capital investment, reliant on commercial financing and funded by an operating subsidy is substantially more expensive.

Related Information

A conceptual analysis of social housing as infrastructure

The business case for social housing as infrastructure

Social housing as infrastructure: an investment pathway

Publication Details


License type:
AHURI Final Report 315