Public housing policy in Australia has been guided by three overarching objectives: prioritising vulnerable tenants in the allocation of property; sustaining stable tenancies by linking households to welfare services; and reducing the pressure on government budgets by enhancing service delivery (Jacobs et al. 2010).

At 30 June 2013, 331,000 Australian households were living in public housing. At the same time, there were also 159,000 households on public housing waiting lists.

Specialist homelessness services play a key role in helping vulnerable people to obtain or maintain public housing. In 2012-13, these services assisted an estimated 244,000 clients. This report looks at the intersection between specialist homelessness services clients and public housing tenants in New South Wales and Western Australia.

By linking data from specialist homelessness agencies and public housing authorities in these states, AIHW identified 18,688 public housing tenants who sought support from specialist homelessness agencies between 1 July 2011 and 30 June 2013. Some of these people were supported prior to obtaining public housing, some were supported while they were in public housing, and others had lost their public housing and subsequently sought assistance from a homelessness agency. The study found that:

  • Specialist homelessness agencies were very successful in helping people to sustain public housing tenancies.
    • Over 85% of the public housing tenants in the study who received assistance from a specialist homelessness agency had an ongoing tenancy at the end of June 2013.
    • For tenants seeking to maintain their tenancies, the more days of specialist homelessness support received, the greater the likelihood that a tenancy would continue.
    • The more days of support received from an SHS agency prior to commencing a public housing tenancy, the more likely that the tenancy was ongoing at the end of June 2013.
  • Most of those assisted into public housing were women.
    • Proportionally they were more likely than men to sustain their tenancies.
  • Women and their children experiencing family and domestic violence were the largest group assisted in public housing
  • T he formerly homeless are at the highest risk of losing a tenancy and this risk is greatest in the first 12 months of that tenancy. Around 70% of all exits from public housing occurred within 12 months of commencing a tenancy.
  • Income support receipt was very high and employment levels very low among the study group. Almost all clients studied (91%) were receiving a government payment or pension, and employment rates across all clients were around 5%.
  • T enants who exited public housing during the study period were more likely to have complex and multiple needs. Non-ongoing public housing tenants reported a greater need for mental health, psychological, drug and alcohol, gambling and legal/court support services.