Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Social Housing Policy Challenges in Tasmania

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Social Housing Policy Challenges in Tasmania

Article excerpt


This paper considers the types of discourse that senior public housing and Non-Government Organisation (NGO) housing managers use to articulate and explain changes in social housing provision in Tasmania, between 2003-10. We suggest that the Tasmanian housing reform agenda is reflective of policy changes in other Australian states. This period marked a time of policy change affecting social housing supply and policy discourse, which were heavily influenced by neo-liberal practices favouring multi-actor governance models and financing.

It has been suggested that governance changes can promote a more sustainable social housing system that is responsive to the needs of the modern state. New actors in social housing governance can generate structural shifts in organisational, legislative and regulatory frameworks (Nygaard et al. 2007), but they also trigger competing logics within social housing markets and mechanisms. We suggest that the 'contestation' of neo-liberal practices needs to be understood in the light of new modes of governance 'that are part and parcel of the neoliberal project' (Miller 2007: 224).

Urban research scholars such as Raco (2003: 77) cite the need to adopt a 'change in methodological focus towards the empirical practices of government and less concern with abstract theorisations.' We recognise the structural transformations associated with neo-liberal processes in social housing (Ruming 2005). This research proposes that negotiations between state and non-state actors in social housing can help to ground theoretical understandings of neo-liberal practices. By reflecting on the course of social housing reform in Tasmania it is possible to provide an account of neo-liberalism at a regional level.

We understand neo-liberalism in terms of three related processes: privatisation, deregulation, and the reallocation of subsidies (Plant 2009: 6). Justifications for neo-liberal practices in social housing have emerged over time, in part as a financial solution to cash-strapped government agencies in Australia, and partly as active adherence to the 'small state' model of state welfare provision. This corresponded with strong political interest in private investment and partnerships in the provision of affordable and social housing in the final Commonwealth State Housing Agreement (CSHA 2003-2008). One of the principles guiding the Commonwealth and the States in the development of this Agreement was 'to promote innovative approaches to leverage additional resources into the social housing system, through community, private sector and other partnerships' (CSHA Bilateral Agreement Tasmania 2003).

This paper was guided by two research questions: First, in what ways do the discources of state and non-state actors articulate key elements of neo-liberal governance, as portrayed in the Affordable Housing Strategy? Second, do these discourses form a coherent application of neo-liberal political practices, or do they reflect competing, contradictory values? The paper contextualises attempts to involve non-government actors in Tasmanian social housing delivery--specifically in the formation of a not-for-profit (NFP) public unlisted company, Tasmanian Affordable Housing Limited (TAHL). The views of Housing Tasmania (HT) senior staff are considered in light of various social housing policy changes, and the associated policy development that NGOs experienced. In principle, the inclusion of new social housing actors required sharing of power and interests between the public and private sectors in order to increase cooperative governance and financial investment, but in practice this did not eventuate.

Housing policy context

The Commonwealth State Housing Agreement (CSHA) has been the primary social policy instrument for public housing in Australia since 1945 and has provided the institutional, financial and policy frameworks within which social housing has developed and operated (Jones et al. …

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