Taking stock: The reconfiguration of public housing governance in Australia

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  • Taking stock: The reconfiguration of public housing governance in Australia

Now home to society’s most disadvantaged populations, public housing has long been viewed as a policy problem, yet it is about to undergo a new and radical set of reforms that reconfigure the way public housing is governed – from the state to the private and community sectors. As this reform process begins, it is necessary to ‘take stock’ of existing knowledge of public housing in Australia in order to help understand the likely consequences of these imminent changes. The workshop will provide a forum for researchers to generate new and important questions about the proposed reforms and develop an agenda for future research on them in collaboration with policymakers and practitioners.

Problem Statement
Initially designed as a solution to the shortage of housing for working families in the post-war period, public housing has now become a major policy problem in many advanced western nations (Dekker and van Kempen, 2004; Hastings, 2004; Arthurson, 2008; Atkinson and Jacobs, 2008; Kearns et al., 2013; Vale, 2013). Reduced public spending on housing, declining financial viability, ageing and deteriorating dwellings, long waiting lists, reduced security of tenure and an allocation policy that limits public housing to those with the most complex and acute needs have combined to create a situation in which public housing is strongly correlated with a high prevalence of poverty, disadvantage and associated social problems (Palmer et al. 2007; Atkinson and Jacobs, 2008; Morris, 2013; Yates, 2013; Fitzpatrick and Pawson, 2014). The effect is that public housing has become highly stigmatised and viewed as a veritable ‘dumping ground’ for the poor, the unemployable, the criminal and the anti-social.

Writing in 2010, Jacobs and colleagues (2010: 2) reflected on the parlous state of public housing in Australia, suggesting that it was at a ‘crossroads insofar as its long-term future is uncertain’. While this state of uncertainty continues today, what is apparent is that we are about to witness a ‘radical’ and ‘unprecedented’ (Pawson et al., 2013: 9) reconfiguration of the way public housing is governed in Australia. Theoretically, this can be understood within the context of what Dean (1999) and others (Flint, 2003) have termed a new, ‘post-welfarist regime of the social’ involving the realignment of the role of the state from that of direct provision of housing to ‘strategic arms length management’ (Flint, 2003: 612) via the transfer of core responsibilities to the private and community sectors. This is occurring in two ways. First, state governments are preparing to relinquish ownership and/or management of up to 35 percent of their public housing to a community housing provider (CHP) by the end of 2014 (Pawson et al., 2013). Second, in response to the growing pressures in the public housing sector, the private rental market has come to be viewed as an alternative to public housing for all but the most vulnerable households, prompting goverments to implement a range of programs to support the growth and operation of the ‘affordable’ private rental sector for those who would otherwise languish on public housing waiting lists. According to the Queensland Government’s Housing 2020 Strategy, for example, the future of Queensland’s housing assistance system for those who are most vulnerable will feature ‘a stronger service delivery role for community housing providers’ and provide ‘lower-income households with the help they need to secure appropriate and affordable housing in the private rental sector’ (Queensland Department of Housing and Public Works, undated: 8).

Workshop aims
The aim of the proposed ASSA workshop is to draw together an interdisciplinary panel of experts from the fields of sociology, social policy, geography, urban planning, economics and housing studies to reflect on the likely implications of this reform process for public housing tenants, the neighbourhoods in which they reside, and the diverse actors enrolled into the reconfigured landscape of public housing provision and management. Already, there is a wealth of research on the policies and processes that have conspired to diminish the public housing sector in Australia (Yates, 2013; Groenhart and Burke, 2014); the consequences for those inhabiting this residualised tenure (Morris, 2013; Fitzpatrick and Pawson, 2014); and the attempts to improve areas with concentrated public housing through programs of urban renewal and social mix (Arthurson, 2008; Stubbs et al., 2005; Flanagan, 2010; Pinnegar et al., 2013). This prior knowledge will be paramount in helping us to understand how the proposed reforms are likely to add to, or ameliorate, the challenges currently facing the public housing sector; the structural impediments to effective outcomes; and the cumulative impacts upon those most affected. In drawing on the learnings of prior research and applying them to a new policy context, the workshop will provide an opportunity for participants to identify key questions that arise from the proposed reform; map out an agenda for future research to address these questions; and foster new research collaborations between academic researchers, policymakers and practitioners.

As a way of guiding discussions, the workshop will be structured around the following core issues:
1. The ‘privatisation’ of housing governance via public housing tenancy transfers and their likely impacts on tenants, service providers and other stakeholders; the opportunities presented through this reconfiguration for better service delivery and the challenges posed; and the processes through which tenants are afforded a ‘choice’ and a ‘voice’ in the way tenancy transfers are enacted and managed (Pawson and Wiesel, 2014).
2. The blurring of ‘public’ and ‘private’ rental housing whereby social housing has become a transitional tenure as the state facilitates the movement of low-income households into the ‘affordable’ private rental sector.
3. The ‘neighbourhood effects’ of these reforms in areas with high proportions of public housing where tenancy transfers and the provision of affordable private rental housing are likely become key features of neighbourhood renewal.

Policy relevance
In Queensland where the event will be held, the workshop will take place against the emerging backdrop of what has been described as Australia’s largest ever social housing project (BlueCHP, 2014)  – the Logan Renewal Initiative. The dual processes of transferring public housing tenancies to a CHP and transitioning lower income households from public housing into the ‘affordable’ private rental sector lie at the heart of this proposed initiative. What makes Logan particularly significant in this regard is that the property and tenancy management of all 4,870 government-owned and managed dwellings in Logan will be transferred, representing Queensland’s 35% target for the entire state. Nowhere has this form of social housing reform taken place at this magnitude in such a single, tightly focussed geographic area. As a result, the Logan Renewal Initiative is likely to set the groundwork for future models of social housing and urban renewal in other areas. The workshop provides an ideal forum for direct engagement between academic researchers, policymakers and practitioners on the issues arising from the Logan Renewal Initiative and their implications for public housing tenants, housing providers and the city of Logan, as well as for the future of public housing policy more broadly.

To ensure this engagement takes place, a half-day policy forum will be hosted on the Logan Renewal Initiative with speakers from the Queensland state government housing department, community housing providers, the Logan City Council and other relevant stakeholders.

References
Arthurson, K. (2008) ‘Australian public housing and the diverse histories of social mix’, Journal of Urban History, 34(3), 484-501.

Atkinson, R. G., and Jacobs, K. (2008) Public Housing in Australia: Stigma, Home and Opportunity, Hobart, Housing and Community Research Unit, University of Tasmania.

BlueCHP (2014)

Dean, M. (1999) Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society, London, Sage.

Dekker, K., and Van Kempen, R. (2004) ‘Large housing estates in Europe: current situation and developments’, Tijdschrift Voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, 95(5), 570-577.

Fitzpatrick, S. and Pawson, H. (2014) ‘Ending security of tenure for social renters: transitioning to ‘ambulance service’ social housing?’, Housing Studies, 29(5), 597-615.

Flanagan, K. (2010) There are People Living Here: Exploring Urban Renewal and Public Housing Estates, Anglicare Tasmania.

Flint, J. (2003) ‘Housing and ethopolitics: constructing identities of active consumption and responsible community’, Economy and Society, 32(3), 611-29.

Groenhart, L. and Burke, T. (2014) ‘What has happened to Australia’s public housing? Thirty years of policy and outcomes, 1981-2011’, Australian Journal of Social Issues, 49(2), 127-49.

Hastings, A. (2004) ‘Stigma and social housing estates: beyond pathological explanations’, Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, 19(3), 233-254.

Jacobs, K. Atkinson, R., Colic Peisker, V., Berry, M. and Dalton, T. (2010) What Future for Public Housing? A Critical Analysis, AHURI Final Report No. 151, Melbourne: AHURI

Kearns, A., Kearns, O., and Lawson, L. (2013) ‘Notorious places: image, reputation, stigma. The role of newspapers in area reputations for social housing estates’, Housing Studies, 28(4), 579-598.

Morris, A. (2013) ‘The residualisation of public housing and its impacts on older tenants in inner city Sydney, Australia’, Journal of Sociology, DOI: 10.1177/1440783313500856

Palmer, C., Ziersch, A., Arthurson, K. and Baum, F. (2007) ‘Challenging the stigma of public housing: preliminary findings from a qualitative study in South Australia’, Urban Policy and Research, 22(4), 411-26.

Pawson, H. and Wiesel, I. (2014) ‘Tenant agency in Australia’s public housing transfers: a comparative assessment’, International Journal of Housing Policy, DOI http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/14616718.2014.952957

Pawson, H., Milligan, V., Wiesel, I. and Hulse, K. (2013) Public Housing Transfers: Past, Present and Prospective, AHURI Final Report No. 215, Melbourne: AHURI

Pinnegar, S., Liu, E. and Randolph, B. (2013) Bonnyrigg Longitudinal Panel Study: First Wave Report, City Futures Research Centre, University of New South Wales.

Queensland Department of Housing and Public Works (undated) Housing 2020: Developing a Flexible, Efficient and Responsive Housing Assistance System for Queensland’s Future, Brisbane, Department of Housing and Public Works.

Stubbs, J., Randolph, B. and Judd, B. (2005) The Bonnyrigg Living Communities Baseline Study, City Futures Research Centre, University of New South Wales.Vale, L. (2013) Purging the Poorest: Public Housing and the Design Politics of Twice-cleared Communities, Chicago, University of Chicago Press

Yates, J. (2013) ‘Evaluating social and affordable housing reform in Australia: lessons to be learnt from history’, International Journal of Housing Policy, 13(2), 111-33.

For more information, please contact:
Mr Murray Radcliffe
Deputy Director
murray.radcliffe [at] assa.edu.au
+61 .2 62491788

Event Schedule

Supporting Documents

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