Public housing transfers: past, present and prospective

23 Oct 2013


This project looked at transfers in three jurisdictions (New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria) and involved in-depth interviews with stakeholders and focus groups with former public housing tenants that transferred to not-for-profit landlords.

Between 1995 and 2012, 21 279 dwellings were transferred. About half of these (10 828) occurred after 2010 under the Social Housing Initiative. Transfers planned to occur by the end of 2014 in Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania could add up to 10 000 more properties under community housing provider management.

Transfers have tended to be management outsourcing (rather than asset handovers), reflecting concerns by treasuries to maintain assets on balance sheets. Most have been to existing providers, involved competitive processes for landlord selection, and management outsourcing often involve three- to five- year contract terms, though longer terms are being contemplated in some states.

The motivations for public housing transfers has been: community housing sector development (with the aim that 35% of all social housing is in the sector by 2014); revenue maximisation (enabling providers to access revenue from tenant Commonwealth Rent Assistance payments); leveraging finance for growth of the community housing sector; service improvement; tenant empowerment and community renewal. The study found evidence of some progress across most of these areas, though less so for tenant empowerment.

With the exception of transfers from Aboriginal Housing Victoria, public housing transfer proposals in Australia have tended to involve only a very limited amount of prior tenant or community consultation, due to short time frames for program implementation and competitive processes for selection of landlords. Individuals can choose to remain a public tenant, but may find their existing property under new management. This has undermined effective choice, and proved managerially inefficient. Even so, most tenants (sometimes up to 90%) have switched landlords.

More widespread stock transfers would require a different approach to the ‘pilot’ transfers already undertaken. This might involve less tenant choice but increased tenant consultation, changed arrangements for staffing and landlord succession, and agreed minimum standards for properties upon transfer. Transfer has also highlighted the need for greater clarity over the social policy objectives of social housing (affecting tenant profiles and incomes), rent setting policies and resourcing for maintaining properties to ensure sustainability over the long term.

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