Examining the role of social housing landlords

What are the responsibilities of landlords regarding tenant wellbeing?

Last updated 22 July 2020

The sudden hard lockdown of nine Victorian Government-managed public housing towers during the current COVID-19 pandemic in order to prevent the spread of the disease has raised issues about the responsibilities of social landlords in supporting vulnerable tenants. Social landlords include both state housing authorities, which provide public housing, and community housing providers (CHPs), which supply community housing.

As part of their eligibility to live in subsidised housing, social housing tenants are on low incomes, with many also experiencing characteristics such as health and mental health issues, drug dependency and low education outcomes. A chronic shortage of social housing now means Australia’s limited social housing stock is targeted at those in ‘greatest need’—individuals and households who rely on government benefits and cannot afford to pay market rents, particularly the elderly, single parents and people with a disability. At the same time, social housing tenants who have the means often choose to exit the tenure, leaving behind ‘neighbourhoods comprised of those with least resources and opportunities’, a process known as ‘residualisation’.

As part of their arrangements with state and territory governments, CHPs are tasked with enhancing tenants’ welfare and quality of life to support ‘public policy ambitions to enhance the social and economic inclusion of disadvantaged tenants and to promote sustainable transitions into market housing.’

However state and territory managed public housing doesn’t necessarily have the same focus on supporting or enhancing tenant welfare. For example, in Victoria (where the lockdown of public housing towers occurred) the 1983 Housing Act simply states that it has a role ‘to co-ordinate the provision of all necessary community services and amenities ancillary to public housing’.

It is appropriate that all social landlords (both state housing authorities and CHP’s) act in a sustainable and transparent way to maximise tenant welfare. This could include a focus on sustaining tenancies; ensuring the fair, respectful and equitable treatment of tenants; assisting tenants to build their capacity for independence; and supporting tenants in accessing the individual and/or community supports they require.

AHURI research reveals that for CHPs ‘on average 56 per cent of the total management outlay was expended on ‘tenancy management’; 25 per cent on ‘property management’; 10 per cent on ‘individual tenant support’ and 9 per cent on ‘additional tenant and community services’.’

Table 1: Types of non-core social landlord activities

Individual tenant support (ITS)Additional tenant and community services (ATCS)
Tenant support visits primarily to identify or respond to individual support needs Supporting tenants to engage with employment or training
Tenant referrals for personal support, counselling etc. Supporting tenant participation in housing/neighbourhood governance (arranging/attending meetings etc.)
Preparing case management plans Community development, place making and events, including culturally specific activities
Negotiating/managing support partnerships Direct provision of community services (e.g. employment, training, youth activities)
Responding to changing individual support needs Referrals to community services (e.g. employment, training, youth activities)
Managing tenancies at risk due to rent arrears or antisocial behaviour—supportive interventions Supporting tenants to move through the housing spectrum (e.g. home purchase)
  Management of community volunteers

Source: AHURI Final Report No. 257: Assessing management costs and tenant outcomes in social housing: recommended methods and future directions

It wasn’t possible to accurately determine the proportion of state housing authorities costs allocated to tenant support, with the AHURI research stating: ‘Policy decisions on social housing reform need to be informed by reliable and meaningful information on the resource inputs involved in providing social housing services—as incurred by public housing authorities, as well as by community housing providers. It is acknowledged that both the organisational scale and the recent administrative fragmentation of public housing present major challenges in accounting for this component of the social housing system.’

Nevertheless, the 2018 National Social Housing Survey found, on a national level, 74 per cent of public housing tenants were ‘satisfied with the services provided by their housing organisation’, only a bit lower than the 80 per cent of CHP tenants who said they were satisfied’.

This is the first in a series of AHURI Briefs examining key policy questions relating to social housing and comes in response to the recent coverage of the public housing lock downs in Melbourne. Future Briefs will examine the built form of social housing as well as public housing renewal and social mix.