What are the benefits of living in social housing?
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Broadly, a goal of social housing is to support the health and wellbeing of tenants (DSS 2020). Social housing often affords tenants with greater security of tenure than private rental housing. Tenure security can provide tenants with certain social, economic and health benefits (such as improved community participation, employment opportunities and mental health), and offers protection from entering homelessness (Groenhart 2014; Prentice and Scutella 2019; Fitzpatrick and Stephens 2007).
Although tenants typically gain multiple benefits from living in social housing, benefits are not guaranteed; and can even be rare to come by for some tenants (Cheshire et al. 2014; Muir et al. 2020; Ong et al. 2022; Pawson et al. 2020). To explore whether the social housing provided to tenants improved their health and wellbeing, tenants were asked about some of the benefits they perceived to gain from living in social housing.
NSHS question about benefits of social housing
Information about the benefits of living in social housing was obtained from responses to the following question:
For you, what are the benefits of living in social housing?
Survey respondents were asked to select ‘Yes, it is a benefit’, ‘No, it is not a benefit’ or ‘Not applicable’ from a list of nominated benefits. The estimates presented in this chapter are the proportion of tenants who agree the nominated item is a benefit of living in social housing (after excluding those who answered ‘Not applicable’).
This section categorises the specific benefits surveyed into the following three broad life domains: economic, health and social (Figure Benefits.1), and reports some of the results relating to the specific benefits nominated in the questionnaire.
Figure Benefits.1: Life domains included in the National Social Housing Survey
In 2021, around 81% of tenants reported benefits across all life domains – economic, social and health. However, tenants reported benefits across 2 domains more often than 3 (Figure Benefits.2, Table S2.1). Nonetheless, almost all tenants reported gaining at least one broad benefit from living in social housing – be it economic (97%), health (96%) or social (93%).
'A safe environment for my children and myself to plan our future and move forward.'
'Public housing provides a security that I will have a home for as long as I need one.'
'Not worrying all the time about having stable affordable accommodation, massive load off my mind.'
Figure Benefits.2: Benefits of living in social housing by broad category, 2021
This interactive bar chart shows the proportion of tenants experiencing benefits from living in each of the social housing programs. Over 90 per cent of tenants reported either economic or health or social benefit. Proportions for more than one benefit type were lower.
Although the reported benefits of living in social housing were relatively similar across all 3 programs, SOMIH tenants generally reported benefits across all domains and combination of domains at a higher proportion than the other housing programs (Figure Benefits 3.1, Table S2.1).
Across all the housing programs, the most common benefits for tenants were feeling more settled (95–96%) and being able to manage rent/money better (93–94%), while being able to continue living in the area (91–93%) was next most common for public housing and community housing tenants (Figure Benefits.2, Table S2.1); feeling more able to cope with life events was the next most common benefit reported by SOMIH tenants. The least common benefit tenants reported was feeling more able to improve their job situation (66%–79%).
'Have the opportunity to support my children with their future/higher education in a home they can live without the stress of financial issues, or location, or space available in the house.'
'I am no longer living in survival mode, and I feel safe.'
'Long term security, knowing I will always have this roof over my head gives me continued peace of mind.'
'Stability and being able to pay cheaper rent, and have money left to eat.'
'The relief of having somewhere safe, clean and permanent to live and the gratitude I feel for that.'
Figure Benefits.3: Benefits by housing program, states and territories, 2021
This interactive bar chart shows specific benefits experience by tenants within each of the social housing programs over time within in each state and territory.
'I feel like I have a stable home, I can afford to live in, my children have a home and feel safe, it makes life easier to cope with.'
'In general, the public housing available to seniors is purpose built and provides sufficient security and safety to allow one to remain in the area where one has spent most of younger years.'
Tenants living in outer regional and remote and very remote areas felt more able to cope with life events (94% and 93% respectively), part of the local community (88% and 87%) and enjoyed better health (87% and 88%) at significantly higher proportions than those living in other areas; better access to public transport (81% and 73%) was reported by these tenants at a significantly lower proportion compared with tenants in other areas (Figure Benefits.4, Table S2.4).
Figure Benefits.4: Benefits by social housing program and remoteness area, 2021
This interactive bar chart shows specific benefits experience by tenants within each of the social housing programs by remoteness area.
Tenants were provided an option to report any additional benefits they felt as a result of being in social housing. Many of the comments re-iterated benefits of the domains, with tenants commenting about the positive impact housing stability had on their overall wellbeing. This included being able to avoid homelessness, improved mental health and improved family relationships.
'Not being at immediate threat of homelessness immensely helps my mental health.'
'Feeling of security and a place for family to visit and stay connected.'
'Having a secure place to live has been hugely beneficial to my life. I have experienced couch surfing and unsafe living environments when I was younger which created a lot of fear, anxiety and instability. I feel a sense of safety and peace knowing I have a safe place to live.'
Cheshire L, Pawson H, Easthope H and Stone W (2014) ‘Living with place disadvantage: community, practice and policy’, AHURI Final Report No. 228, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), Melbourne.
DSS (Department of Social Services) (2020) ‘Housing’, DSS, Australian Government.
Fitzpatrick S and Stephens M, (2007), ‘An International Review of Homelessness and Social Housing Policy’, Communities and Local Government
Groenhart L (2014) ‘Employment of Public Housing Residents in Australian Cities’, Urban Policy and Research, 33(3): 291-39.
Muir K, Powell A, Flanagan K, Stone W, Tually S, Faulkner D, Hartley C, and Pawson H (2020) ‘A pathway to where?’ Inquiry into understanding and reimagining social housing pathways’, AHURI Final Report No. 332, AHURI, Melbourne.
Ong R, Singh R, Baker E, Bentley R and Hewton J (2022) ‘Precarious housing and wellbeing: a multidimensional investigation’, AHURI Final Report No. 373, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), Melbourne.
Prentice D and Scutella R (2019) ‘What are the impacts of living in social housing? New evidence from Australia’, Housing Studies, 35(4):612-647.
Pawson H, Milligan V and Yates J (2020) ‘Housing Policy in Australia: A Case for System Reform’, Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.