14 Dec 2017
 Why is housing so critical?

Homelessness is an ongoing concern in major urban areas around Australia despite numerous government policies targeted at combating the problem so what difference is affordable long term community housing making in the lives of people who have experienced homelessness?

In 2016, Cities Programme Research Associate and RMIT Tutor, Shai Diner, embarked on a seven month research project focused on Community Housing in Inner City Melbourne, delving into effective methods of housing formerly homeless people in long term housing.

The research project focused on South Port Community Housing Group (SouthPort), a Community Housing Provider (CHP) in Victoria that manages 283 affordable housing properties in South Melbourne and Port Melbourne, in partnership with the Victorian State Government, targeted at single homeless people who receive government benefits.


For Shai the highlight of his seven month research was the time spent getting to know staff and residents of the South Port Community Housing Group.

The capacity to integrate into South Port and get to know the staff and the tenants was a truly rewarding experience. Being able to get work alongside incredibly hard, resilient and knowledgeable people was a lot of fun and doing the practical work of research, where you get to explore and expand your knowledge of horizons is rewarding beyond measure”.

Tenants like Lily who recounted the experience of sleeping rough on the streets of Melbourne for 12 months before she was able to enter a rooming house.

“I lived on the streets for 12 months. I’m on state trustee, so they put me up in accommodation where they could for hotels rooms and that for the weekend. It was horrible. Yeah, it was horrible. It was cold. It was lonely. It was heartbreaking.”

Lily’s experience of previously sleeping rough is not only common to South Port tenants Shai interviewed it’s the most visible form of homelessness, although it constitutes the smallest percentage of homelessness people.

South Port provides affordable community housing and access to services like recreational support and referrals to appropriate services in the City of Port Phillip, an inner Melbourne suburb, for formerly homeless single people like Lily.

The causes of homelessness are complex, including factors such as mental health, rising housing costs, relationship and family breakdowns, addiction and shrinking affordable housing options for people on low incomes.

The aim of Shai’s research study was not to study the causes but to document the model that South Port has adopted in its provision of housing, and to analyse how it is effective in providing long term housing that enables individuals to overcome their previous homeless status.

The result is the just released 2017 report – Housing and Homes: Understanding social support and ontological security among South Port Community Housing Group Tenants – developed in partnership with RMIT University and South Port Community Housing Group Inc.

The report draws on qualitative data, including participant observations and 26 interviews with individuals, to understand tenants’ perspectives on the housing provided and how  South Port’s housing is effective for low income and formerly homeless people.

It provides an in-depth understanding of the service, trying to understand the key elements from the tenants perspective.


South Port tenants’ experience

How do South Port’s tenants perceive and experience their housing? This is one of the three questions Shai’s researched aimed to answer.

Over the course of his observations from  February to August 2016 Shai conducted interviews with 21 tenants to explore tenants’ perceptions and experience of South Port housing.

Overall residents were satisfied with their South Port housing. South Port provides three different types of housing to single people: rooms in rooming houses, self-contained bed-sit units and one bedroom flats.

“I am just pleased to have my privacy back, a sense of dignity back and a sense of this is my home, this is my unit. And I don’t have to share it with anybody else there’s no risk of conflict,” said Jorge one of the tenants.”

Shai’s research uncovered two key findings in South Port’s housing provision:

  1. Self-contained units, in smaller-sized apartment blocks, with tenure security is the key driver for tenants remaining in housing long term;
  2. Due to the small sized apartment blocks, tenants were able to develop social supports within the South Port community.

An analysis of the length of tenancy at South Port housing also indicated that more than 35% of tenants have lived in a South Port residence for more than seven years.  And a further 19% have lived in a South Port residence for more than three years.

Indicating that South Port’s housing model has allowed tenants to remain in its housing over significant periods of time and to develop  a normal, stable routine.  South Port residents tend to remain long term and thus are at less risk of homelessness.

“I’m not sleeping on the streets. I’m not in a rooming house. I’m in a unit. I’m in my own unit, my own home. And while it’s not the biggest place, I have my bed, I have my kitchen and I have my bathroom. And at the moment, that’s what I really need,” said Jorge.

Read the key findings and recommendations in the full report.