New report reveals chronic disadvantage among social housing tenants

New report reveals chronic disadvantage among social housing tenants

The first report of the Maximising Impact study has found social housing tenants are more likely to have experienced chronic, often lifelong, disadvantage than other groups, revealing complex needs for which effective social housing is a crucial social safety net.

The longitudinal study by RMIT’s Unison Housing Research Lab, now in its second year, is following 170 social housings tenants to gain a better understanding of their unique characteristics and complex needs.

With increased public spending on social housing, including the Victorian Government’s $5.3 billion announcement on Sunday, it’s important to find out more about how best to support this vulnerable group.

The Maximising Impact study aims to determine contributing factors behind how long tenants stay in housing, their satisfaction and participation in the wider community and economy.

The report published Thursday presents key findings from the baseline survey of new Unison Housing tenants, conducted between May 2018 and April 2020.

It provides unique and important information on the social and biographical characteristics of Unison’s tenants and shows they have many experiences in common – particularly long-term labour market disengagement, extreme housing instability and severe financial stress.

Lead researcher for the report, RMIT’s Dr Sarah Taylor, said despite numerous studies involving social housing tenants, existing research hadn’t shed enough light on the characteristics and experiences of social housing tenants.

“Part of the problem has been a lack of understanding of the specific circumstances of social housing tenants, meaning providers haven’t been equipped with the knowledge needed to effectively help them,” she said.

“Our research in the Unison Housing Research Lab seeks to change this by giving housing providers a deeper understanding of the community they support.”

Respondents were grouped into three categories – some who’d never been homeless, some who’d experienced homelessness but hadn’t slept rough, and some who’d slept rough or squatted in the past.

Although those who had previously slept rough or squatted had the most severe degree of disadvantage, there were some characteristics shared by most respondents.

“Rates of poor physical and mental health, drug and alcohol issues, and experience of violence were much higher than rates reported in the general histories of homelessness,” Taylor said.

“What also stands out is their disadvantage is chronic rather than temporary, often emerging early in their lives.”

The research found a clear association between self-assessed health and housing biography, with just 14% of those who had slept rough or squatted reporting to be in good or very good health.

Having a home was rated the most important aspect of life, with respondents rating their health and financial situation as the next most important.

84% of respondents reported they had experienced homelessness at some point in their lives compared to about 13% in the general community.

Taylor said particularly during responses to COVID-19, it’s important policy makers, politicians and the public recognise the role social housing can play in reducing vulnerabilities.

“A strong safety net that includes a properly resourced social housing system is essential to protect the most vulnerable members of the community and offer them the best chance of living a good life,” she said.

From here, researchers will check how residents are faring and produce two more reports over the coming years – drawing on the longitudinal data from follow-up interviews.

The Unison Housing Research Lab is a unique education and research collaboration between RMIT University and Unison Housing, a social housing provider.

Read the full report or the summary.


Story: Aeden Ratcliffe

19 November 2020


  • Research
  • Sustainability
  • Society

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