From 29 April 2022, Compass Housing Services became Home In Place.

Social housing explained

With increasing focus on the crisis Australia’s housing market, many people are asking what is social housing, who is eligible for social housing and how do you apply for it?

In this blog we answer those questions as well as show why social housing is an important part of the Australian housing market.

Social housing is government subsidised rental housing – both short term and long term. It is one form of secure and affordable housing for Australians especially those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Housing and other experts agree that declining investment in social housing has left a chronic shortfall. With social housing making up only 4% of Australia’s housing market, there needs to be urgent investment in social housing to benefit all Australians.

What is social housing?

Social housing is government subsidised rental housing for people on low incomes who cannot afford to own or rent a home privately. It is secure and affordable housing for people with the greatest housing need. Unlike private rental housing, people are allocated social housing rather than competing for it. Social housing rents are generally lower than private rents and are set according to the person’s needs rather than by market forces.

Social housing is an important part of the housing system. It includes state government run public housing as well as not for profit run community housing. There is also Aboriginal housing which is either managed by state governments or community housing providers including Aboriginal community housing providers.

There are around 350,000 social housing properties in Australia which is not enough to address growing rates of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Social housing is the responsibility of each state or territory government rather than the Australian Government. The Australian and state and territory governments have a National Affordable Housing Agreement that provides the framework to improve housing affordability and homelessness outcomes for Australians which covers things like social housing.

What is social housing in states such as NSW Queensland and Victoria?

In NSW, social housing is managed by the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ). Community housing providers manages social housing in line with the Residential Tenancies Act 2010.

In Queensland, the Department of Housing manages social housing in line with the Housing Act 2003 and the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Act 2008.

In Victoria, the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing manages social housing in line with the The Housing Act (1983) and The Residential Tenancies Act (1997).

Each state operates a single Housing Register to assess and manage social housing applications and waiting lists.

Types of social housing

What is social housing and what are the types of social housing available to people? Social housing compasses different types of housing – both short term and long term. Three types of social housing are public housing, community housing and transitional housing.

Public housing

Public housing is social housing that is owned and managed by the respective State Government. Generally, public housing rents are calculated at 25 to 30 per cent of the household’s income.

Community housing

Community housing is social housing that is managed by a community housing provider such as Home in Place. The State Government or the community housing provider may own the housing.

In community housing the 25 to 30 per cent of income rent rate only applies to very low-income tenants. Community housing tenants are eligible for Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA). The community housing provider receives that subsidy. As GST does not apply to not-for-profit community housing providers that charge rents that are less than 75 per cent of local market rents, in many cases community housing rents are set at or below 74.9 per cent of market rents in that area.

Home in Place manages community housing for over 5600 tenants in Queensland and NSW. We believe community housing is about much more than providing a roof over someone’s head. Our staff work with our community housing tenants to help them to sustain their tenancy and be actively engaged in their community. We provide or link tenants to wrap around services in relation to their health, employment, training and skills development, and other life goals. In some Home in Place community housing complexes tenants have access to community hubs, a community garden and events that help to build community.

Home in Place community housing tenants can also get involved in our tenant reference groups to help us to improve our community housing services.

Transitional housing

Transitional housing is a type of short term social housing, generally managed by community housing providers. It is really a specialist homelessness service providing crisis accommodation to people on the housing register with an urgent need for housing.

Transitional housing helps tenants stabilise their circumstances so they can move on to more appropriate affordable and secure accommodation in the private rental market or in social housing or affordable housing.

Home in Place provides transitional housing in some areas of NSW and Queensland. As part of your transitional housing tenancy agreement, we will help develop a tenancy plan to assist you to access suitable long-term secure and affordable housing.

Is there enough social housing in Australia?

There is not enough social housing in Australia’s housing market. A lack of social housing is contributing to rising rates of homelessness. The 2021 Australian Census shows that more than 122,000 Australian are homeless each night.

According to the 2021 Census, there are around 350,000 social housing properties in Australia. Social housing accounts for around 4.4% of all housing properties in Australia. This is below other European countries and the OECD average of 6.9%. But Australia’s level of social housing is above that of Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

Waiting lists for social housing are long and rising. In NSW there are almost 60,000 on the waiting list for social housing. Expected wait times to receive a property are as long at 10 years in many areas.

Research by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) suggests that by 2037 there will need to be more than 1.1 million social housing dwellings in Australia.

In November 2022, analysis of 2021 Census data by the Community Industry Housing Association estimated Australia’s shortfall of social housing properties to be 640,000.  The shortfall of social housing dwellings in NSW is 135,000 and in Queensland it is more than 101,000.

The lack of social housing is due to increasing demand as well as less supply. State governments around Australia have underinvested in social housing in recent decades. There was a time when governments in Australia built around 25% of all new homes. These days, the share of new homes built by government has fallen to roughly 2%.

The Australian Government is proposing to set up a Housing Australia Future Fund. The fund will pay for the construction of a set number of new social and affordable housing properties in its first five years. Ongoing investment returns from the fund will be used to fund more social and affordable housing projects.

What is the difference between social housing and affordable housing?

When looking at what is social housing, it is important to note that it is different to affordable housing.

While social housing is for those in the greatest housing need, affordable housing is more for moderate-income households. Affordable housing helps people working in key areas who are unable to find and afford a private rental property.

So, affordable housing is open to a broader range of household incomes than social housing and has stricter access criteria than social housing.

Affordable housing is generally managed by community housing providers rather than a government housing department, and in a similar way to how people rent a private home from a landlord. Usually, people apply for an advertised affordable housing property. Some affordable housing managers keep waiting lists but do not have to do so.

Rents for affordable housing are usually calculated differently to social housing and there are different tenancy arrangements. Usually, affordable housing tenants cannot transfer between properties and household members cannot apply to take over a tenancy.

Households do not have to be eligible for social housing to apply for affordable housing. Those eligible for social housing may also be eligible for affordable housing. In NSW, if you are eligible for social housing and gain a tenancy in an affordable housing property you will be removed from NSW Housing Register for social housing vacancies.

Who is eligible to live in social housing?

Australian citizens or permanent residents are eligible for social housing if they meet a range of requirements around income, property and asset ownership, and their ability to maintain a successful tenancy. One way to look at what is social housing is to see who is eligible.

To live in social housing the combined gross income of your household (everyone living in the house) cannot be over a certain threshold. You or other members of the house must not own or part own property in Australia or overseas that you could reasonably use to resolve your need for social housing. You also need to demonstrate that you can sustain your tenancy, either without support or with some support from a service provider or government agency. This means that you must look after the home, pay your rent, and not engage in anti-social behaviour.

If you are living in social housing and your circumstances change you must notify within 28 days. A change in circumstances includes things such as changes to the people living in or staying regularly at the home. It also includes changes to income or assets including if you inherit money, shares or property, receive a workers compensation or insurance benefit, or start a business.

Read more about eligibility for social housing in NSW here.

Read the policy on eligibility for social housing in Queensland here.

Read more about eligibility for social housing in Victoria here.

How to apply for social housing in your area

What is social housing and how can you apply for it? You can apply for social housing in your area through the state government department that looks after social housing. The process for applying for social housing is different in each Australian state.

In Queensland you apply for social housing by contacting a  Housing Service Centre. You will have an interview to discuss your eligibility and housing needs.

In NSW you can apply for social housing online, by phoning 1800 422 322 or through a Department of Community and Justice (DCJ) office or a community housing provider such as Home in Place. Most social housing applications are managed through a central Housing Pathways system.

In Victoria you apply for social housing online or submit a paper form available online or through the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing office.

People seeking to live in social housing are assessed and then placed on the respective state’s Housing Register or waiting list. There is a general waiting list and a priority waiting list for social housing. Priority for social housing is given to people with complex housing needs who require urgent housing and are not able to rent privately. You need to show you have tried to find private rental accommodation before you can be considered for priority social housing.

What to expect during a social housing tenancy

Whether you are renting public housing through a State Government as community housing through a community housing provider, social housing tenants have rights under state legislation. Each public housing or community housing provider may have different agreements, policies and levels of support for its social housing tenants.

Social housing tenants, like those renting in the private rental market, sign a tenancy or lease agreement. Social housing must maintain their tenancy, which means they must look after their home and not engage in anti-social behaviour. You need to notify your housing provider within 28 days of your circumstances changing – such as to income or changes to people living in the house.

As is the case in the private rental market, social housing tenants can expect to have a property inspection by the government housing department or their community housing provider. But Home in Place community housing tenants will also receive visits to see what support members of the house need to help them to meet their goals and participate in their community.

If you have a complaint, concern or dispute you should make that known to the government agency or community housing provider through which you are renting your social housing. If they are unable to satisfy your complaint or resolve your dispute, then you should contact the specific government complaints body for housing in your State.

Find community housing in NSW and QLD  with Home In Place

If you are looking for social housing in NSW and Queensland or to know more about what is social housing, contact the community housing team at Home in Place.

Demand for social housing is high and there can be long wait times. Our team can help you to apply for social housing or see if there is other community housing options or support to meet your needs.

Home in Place is one of Australia’s largest and leading not for profit providers of social and affordable housing. It has been providing community housing to people for almost 40 years. Home in Place’s person centred approach to social housing means that it provides tenants with wrap around support to help them to keep their home and to gain skills to participate in their community.

Read more about our community housing services here. To get in touch about social housing in NSW and Queensland call 1300 333 733 or visit our contact page.

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