This report examines the role of policy in shaping social housing pathways (i.e. the changing experience of housing by tenants and their households over time and space) through a review of current social housing operational policies. It considers application processes, eligibility criteria, rent, use of premises, tenant-initiated transfers, portfolio management and tenancy management by landlords.
Housing pathways describe the changing experience of housing by tenants and their households over time and space. The impact of the transformation of social housing in recent years on these pathways is not well understood, and we investigate it in this report.
Accessing and securing social housing is dependent on a range of eligibility criteria, with housing allocated on a priority needs basis. In some jurisdictions, having a low income alone does not guarantee eligibility for social housing.
Living in social housing means that one’s housing can be subject to periodic eligibility reviews, which can also be triggered by (mis)use of premises or by changing household circumstances. For example, an increase in household income, the expansion of a household or when a household member needs to leave due to family violence. The way these issues are monitored and assessed across jurisdictions directly shapes the housing pathways of social housing tenants.
Moves within social housing can be tenant-initiated or landlord-initiated. Tenant-initiated transfers are most likely to result from changing household circumstances, and landlord-initiated transfers from portfolio or tenancy management. Both tenant and landlord-initiated transfers are constrained by the wider policy context, specifically, a shortage of suitable alternative housing stock to transfer households to.
Moves out of social housing may also be tenant or landlord-initiated. Previous research has demonstrated that regardless of who initiated the move, tenants often return to the social housing system. Returns to social housing are compounded by the increasing proportion of tenants with complex needs who are likely to require support to live in private housing. The lack of affordable and appropriate housing alternatives to social housing also increases pressure on the sector, including from tenants returning to the sector who have previously left.
Many of the operational policies that shape housing pathways have been introduced in the context of sustained high demand and a lack of supply. They are therefore arguably designed to manage wait lists by rationing supply. While we are yet to explore the tenant experience of social housing pathways, reimagining social housing pathways likely requires a greater policy focus on ensuring positive outcomes for households.
"... the main pathway into social housing is via homelessness or risk of homelessness ... "
Associate Professor Abigail Powell, Centre for Social Impact, UNSW.