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Social housing key to private investment, research reveals

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Social housing can be treated as a form of infrastructure that creates a viable base for private investment, according to new research into the private housing market failings.

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) developed research of persuasive and credible cases for social housing, suggesting that policy makers adopt pragmatic techniques, such as cost-benefit analysis, to promote social housing values.

Lead researcher from the University of Tasmania, Dr Kathleen Flanagan, said housing “can obviously be seen as infrastructure in that it allows labour to be productive”.

Flanagan said: “In particular, it affects productivity through agglomeration economics – the size and density of populations housed impacts the costs of commuting, public health, ageing and childhood development and learning.”

The report, however, warns that solely conceptualising social housing as a productive infrastructure risks excluding valuable aspects of social housing that are not as easily quantified or monetised. It can be understood as something that enables the delivery of economic or productivity outcomes or essential services.

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AHURI added that historically, government intervention is accepted as necessary and appropriate during times when the Australian housing market has failed to provide for people on low incomes, leaving them without suitable housing options.

It added that there is currently widespread recognition that the private housing market is failing to meet housing needs of a growing proportion of households. The impact of this extends beyond people targeted by present-day social housing systems.

Flanagan said: “Our research challenges the mainstream assumptions about who social housing should be for and why.”

The report argues that infrastructure analysis of social housing should consider broad ranges of economic and social outcomes possible for households of lower-income.

“There are risks an uncritical adoption of a business case approach that focusses on the measurable financial aspects of social housing may exclude or hide other important qualities that are relevant to the purpose of social housing.”

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