Wellbeing outcomes of low-income renters: a multi-level analysis of area effects: positioning paper

Employment Poverty Cities and towns Social issues Housing Neighbourhood effects Place-based stigma Australia
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This project aims to provide a multi-level analysis of the wellbeing outcomes of low-income renters living in socially diverse locations, to help inform area-based policies on social mix and affordability.

Key findings

Whether it is better to be ‘poor’ in a ‘poor area’ or one that is more socially diverse has been a central concern for research attempting to establish the neighbourhood effects associated with concentrations of disadvantage and for policies aiming to ameliorate these effects. There is general agreement among researchers and policy-makers that neighbourhoods can exert both a negative and positive impact on wellbeing with a strong evidence base, particularly emanating from the US and Western European countries, of where effects are most pronounced and the causal mechanisms underpinning them. However, despite more than two decades of research, there remain critical questions unanswered and methodological challenges to overcome in how researchers adequately isolate the impact of an area from the personal attributes of the individuals who live there.

Being able to isolate the impact of an area above and beyond individual characteristics requires the use of robust longitudinal methods including both quantitative and detailed qualitative area-based ethnographies. There are currently significant gaps associated with both approaches, particularly in Australian studies specifically examining the longitudinal interrelationship between area diversity, the type of housing lived in, and wellbeing outcomes. The general consensus in the Australian evidence is that lower advantaged areas do not necessarily generate universally ‘bad’ outcomes for social rental residents’ wellbeing, and that greater recognition needs to be paid to the wellbeing outcomes of private renters who are also concentrated in more disadvantaged areas.

This research seeks to address the quantitative gap in the evidence base by providing a longitudinal multi-level statistical analysis that can isolate individual and household level effects from area level effects. In doing so, the research will combine the construction of spatial measures indicative of 'social mix’ from the Australian Census of Population and Housing data with individual panel data from the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. Specifically, the overall aim of the research is to compare the characteristics and place-based wellbeing outcomes of lower income renters across areas indicative of high to low social mix.

This AHURI Positioning Paper is the first of two reports documenting the outcomes for the project. The purpose of this Positioning Paper is to outline the conceptual and methodological framework that will guide the empirical analysis across all stages of the research. It also presents our sample framework for identifying lower income renters and a preliminary descriptive and area-based analysis of their circumstances drawing on 10 years of HILDA data and the 2011 Census.

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