This report considers the findings from an evidence-based policy inquiry into individualised forms of housing assistance which assessed whether their implementation could lead to improved services and better outcomes for low-income and vulnerable households. It sets out future policy options arising from the research and inquiry panel discussions.
A diverse range of households, with varied economic and demographic profiles, are ‘in need of’ or ‘vulnerable to need for’ housing assistance.
Australian and international experience indicates a number of ways in which individualisation of housing assistance can respond more sensitively to the varied needs of different population groups.
Demand-side housing assistance options could incorporate tailored forms of assistance that enable intermittent support for households able to transition into employment or maintain their current housing, alongside increased support to those with ongoing and/or complex needs.
Success in the Australian context requires services that are sufficiently resourced to attend to both the immediate and long term needs of clients as well as having access to longer term housing which is not only affordable but also suitable for people’s needs.
Demand-side strategies will not work without attending to the well-evidenced shortage of affordable and suitable supply for very low-income households. Government has a major role in investing in this sector as the market has not produced supply at the price and of the type required. Policies to address the shortage of housing supply should be part of wider reform process that takes into account taxation and fiscal policy.
Another means of individualisation is through creating markets (or quasi markets) for welfare services. This could entail private, not-for-profit and government organisations competing to provide different types of housing assistance. Housing assistance clients could have a personal budget to access the ‘bundle of assistance’ they require. There are practical difficulties in applying this approach to housing assistance which involves assets as well services.
Similar to the NDIS, the assessment for such housing assistance could consider individual goals, objectives and aspirations across various aspects of life (e.g. housing, employment and education); assessment of reasonable and necessary support needs in relation to these goals; and assessment of available informal supports.
A competitive culture in a multi-provider setting may provide consumers with more choice but can undermine the coherence of care and level of professional coordination. In addition, there is a risk that private agencies may reduce choice by lowering their price in the short term in order to eliminate competition. Monitoring and regulation of service quality is required to ensure service standards remain high.
The extension of choice can be achieved in other ways other than through competition and the market. Another option for policy makers to extend choice is through stock transfer of public housing units to community housing agencies to enable diversity in providers and types of provision, management and links with support services. Alternatively, landlords could be encouraged to offer differential rents (depending on the length of tenancy). So for example, tenants who sign up for a long-term lease might be able to secure a reduced rent.
As for the future, housing agencies will achieve the best outcomes in terms of service delivery if they can adopt a pragmatic rather than ideologically-driven market agenda. Welfare services that attend to the intrinsic factors that motivate staff to commit time and energy in providing services are more likely to achieve their objectives than those that prioritise short-term profit-maximising. The extension of choice is a desirable objective for housing agencies but the route to achieve it should be broad-based and experimental. There is much to be gained for organisations adopting a more experimental approach to service delivery in which new approaches are piloted and then evaluated.
Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Limited 2016