Executive summary: Australia’s social housing system is under considerable pressure, with high demand but manifestly inadequate supply. In this context, governments have introduced ‘pathways’ frameworks to promote movement through the social housing system. This report explores tenants’ experiences of and perspectives on social housing ‘pathways’. Key findings include the following:
The same pressures placing the social housing system under strain also constrain the housing pathways of low-income households. For many, social housing offers the only viable source of affordable and secure housing. This reality structures households’ experiences of social housing and their aspirations for the future.
Underinvestment in the social housing system has led to extreme rationing and limited the support that can reasonably be provided to tenants. Applicants and tenants therefore largely experience the social housing system as onerous, challenging and unsupportive. If social housing providers are to continue to target so exclusively to need, greater efforts must be made to implement processes that provide adequate support to applicants and residents.
Social housing tenants value their homes and communities. They regard themselves as deeply fortunate to live in social housing and in contrast to the past experiences many have had of acute housing instability, social housing provides them with profound ontological security. Their experience of being ‘at home’ in social housing is largely incompatible with a pathways framework.
Tenants value caring relationships with individual workers, yet many have experienced disrespectful and demeaning practices and interactions. Housing officers, especially in public housing, must be resourced and supported to prioritise care and respect in their everyday interactions with clients.
Better coordination is needed between the social housing system and other areas of human service delivery. This includes with aged care services and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), to ensure that for older tenants and people with disability, support to live independently aligns well with the provision of appropriate housing. Measures to better integrate support for tenants also need to include better engagement with employment services to assist tenants into paid work so they can increase their incomes and move out of poverty.
Tenants, and many providers, regard the role of social housing as one of providing permanent, affordable housing to low-income households and of sustaining tenancies rather than disrupting them. At present they do not consider the system to function as a transitional pathway and, largely, they do not think it should in future.