Housing as infrastructure

Is social housing infrastructure?

Current research undertaken by AHURI on considering social housing as infrastructure is validating many of the points the community housing sector has been putting forward for years.

Social housing is not just a ‘nice to have’ or a housing option that should be targeted to the most vulnerable people in society. It has a measurable impact on productivity; it contributes to more equitable communities, and is the foundation upon which people who have been struggling to get by can begin to rebuild their lives.

However, subsidised housing requires a subsidy, and the sticking point for the past several decades is where this subsidy is going to come from. Capital grant programs have come and gone, with minimal growth in social housing supply in Victoria since the nation building stimulus package of 2009-10.

Governments have largely stepped away from building new social housing, with the community housing sector growing to become a significant social landlord in its own right.

Lately, the Victorian government has been exploring new ways to attract private investment, and encourage the planning system to deliver affordable housing where there otherwise might have been none. Though this is moving in the right direction, these efforts are still falling far short of the 3,000 social housing properties that Victoria needs to build every year just to meet the demands of the current wait list for social housing.

So what can we do, and how does reimagining social housing as infrastructure help?

AHURI’s research points to international examples of how social housing systems can achieve a variety of social and economic outcomes beyond just housing low-income households. A thriving social housing system can be used to drive a wide range of policy aims, from improving land use to driving innovation in construction methods.

But, whilst the arguments for treating social housing as a form of infrastructure are reasoned, we need to convince the general public and, through them, politicians and other decision makers that this is an issue that Australia can’t afford to ignore.

CHIA Vic is currently developing a tenant-focused outcomes framework that will enable the sector to identify and measure its social impact. This will enable us to frame the ‘social housing as infrastructure’ business case in a way that demonstrates the value of social housing, and its essential role in assisting tenants to live with dignity and participate in the economy.