What is an at-risk tenancy?

An at-risk tenancy is one in which a household faces significant difficulties in establishing and/or sustaining their tenancy due to their immediate or long-standing social, health or economic needs. The household may be under threat of possible or actual eviction as a result of rent arrears, accumulated housing debt or tenancy breaches including property damage, inadequate property standards and anti-social behaviour (including neighbourhood conflicts). 

These issues are often brought on by a ‘myriad of personal drivers’, such as mental and physical illnesses; substance abuse problems; relationship breakdown; loss of employment; hospitalisation/rehabilitation; experiences of family and domestic violence; and incarceration.

Generally, the programs are focussed on young people, Indigenous Australians and people on low incomes. 

What does a sustaining tenancy program do?

While Governments usually fund and manage tenant support programs, support services to clients are provided by non-government agencies.

The range of supports include tenancy advice/information/support and education; needs assessment and case management; financial support; individual advocacy; counselling; family/household management skills including financial management; and independent and community living skills development. In addition, some programs may provide a wider scope of supports relating to family conflict, violence and abuse; mental illness; general health issues; substance misuse; support service referrals; social and personal development; job search skills development; financial relief and material assistance; legal and child protection matters.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, government interventions to prevent evictions for economically stressed tenant households can be considered as a form of a sustain tenancy program.

What makes for a successful sustaining tenancy program?

AHURI research shows that successful tenancy support programs feature a number of common elements:

  • having a flexible approach to service delivery
  • employing an experienced and dedicated program staff (and in particular employing local Indigenous workers for programs targeting Indigenous households)
  • having effective links with broader service providers to enable the provision of wraparound supports
  • empowering tenants through education about their rights and responsibilities
  • adopting early intervention and outreach approaches to save tenancies before it may be too late.


The research also identifies several tenant characteristics that tend to feature in successful sustaining tenancy program outcomes, including tenants who have good financial management skills; are willing to develop tenancy management skills; and are part of a well-functioning household.

Additional AHURI research reveals that Government funded sustaining tenancy programs ‘reported tenancy sustainability rates between 80.9 per cent and 92.3 per cent, depending on the program and year under examination. Correspondingly, the proportion of evictions/vacant possessions was low: ranging from 0.3 per cent to 3.4 per cent of tenancies.’

Furthermore, the mean cost of providing support is estimated as $4260 per support period (in the years 2011–13), although this amount varies between different programs from a low of $1693 per support period (on average for four months) to sustain an existing social housing tenancy to over $20,000 per support period for young people to maintain a social housing dwelling in a Youth Foyer program (which may run over several years).  

Making sustaining tenancy programs better

The success of a tenancy should not be judged simply in terms of housing occupancy, but in terms of the degree to which it meets the needs of the person housed and their family. With this important principle in mind, sustaining tenancy programs need to adopt a continuum of support that

  • assesses issues and if necessary implements support during the allocations phase when tenants are first assigned a social housing tenancy 
  • provides early intervention strategies following a change in circumstance or behaviour (rather than stepping in only at crisis point), for example rent arrears, reports of anti-social behaviour, interaction with the justice system and health facilities, and family changes such as child protection issues, family break up or the death of a partner 
  • ensures longer term and sustainable tenancies through capacity building
  • is sustainable, being aimed at empowering clients to ensure longer term independent living
  • is holistic in that it addresses a range of support needs (such as mental health, physical health, substance misuse, family conflict and violence, child protection etc.).