Australia’s current housing affordability crisis is creating a spiral of disadvantage that is forcing society's poorest people, who are already struggling to pay their rent or mortgage, to move to even poorer areas for accommodation, research shows.
An Australian study, published in the journal Applied Geography in 2016, reveals that the housing affordability crisis could be pushing people to move constantly in a bid to find cheaper accommodation.
The research finds that 15 per cent of Australians, on average, move home each year. This was in contrast to 28 per cent of people in unaffordable housing who move home annually.
Study co-author, Associate Professor Rebecca Bentley from the University of Melbourne's School of Population and Global Health, says people in unaffordable housing move more frequently and usually ‘move down’. Each time they move, they are living in slightly worse accommodation in less advantaged areas than they were previous.
“On average, as people move, they move upwards but people who live in unaffordable housing move slightly downwards with each move and move more,” explains A/Professor Bentley.
“Moving in and of itself isn’t necessarily a problem but moving to a slightly less advantaged area each time you move is because access to local education and good transport diminishes with each move.
“People are also moving to areas with less opportunity to get a good job and change or improve their situation. So there’s a structural barrier for people to get a good job that could potentially get them out of their housing affordability problems.”
“Housing unaffordability is driving people into a spiral of disadvantage."
As a result, she says, the housing affordability crisis could be widening the gap between rich and poor.
“Housing unaffordability is driving people into a spiral of disadvantage," says A/Professor Bentley.
“[This trend] also describes, potentially, a process of segregation, where people are getting sorted into less advantaged or more advantaged areas depending on the cost of the housing they can afford.”
The study was a joint project, conducted by University of Melbourne, University of Adelaide and University of South Australia.
‘Unaffordable housing’, for the purpose of the study, is defined as housing costing more than 30 per cent of household income.
The researchers examined a longitudinal dataset tracking the household dynamics of approximately 18,000 Australians since 2000. They analysed the characteristics of movers, their reasons for moving, and their pre and post move residential outcomes.
They also used the Australian Bureau of Statistics' Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage, which examines employment and housing, to determine whether individuals who moved were better or worse off after relocation.
The study concludes that housing affordability was the key driver of the selective migration of some Australians into less advantaged places.
A/Professor Bentley recommends that future government policies, implemented to fix housing affordability problems, aim to boost employment opportunities for people facing housing stress.
“What we need to do is support people through employment to get better housing so they don’t keep moving to areas where they are less likely to get employment, which isn’t a good thing,” says A/Prof Bentley.
Other solutions to the ‘spiraling issue of disadvantage’ at hand includes measures to increase the security of tenure for people in unaffordable housing.
“Renters can have more secure lease [arrangements] to prevent them from constantly moving house.
“And we need to address housing affordability for people 'in situ', like subsidised housing for people to stay in the same area rather than looking for cheaper accommodation options elsewhere.”
Previous research estimates that about 10 per cent of all Australian households currently live in unaffordable housing.
“What we need to do is support people through employment to get better housing so they don’t keep moving to areas where they are less likely to get employment, which isn’t a good thing."
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently proposed a Smart Cities Plan to provide Australians with productive, accessible, liveable cities that attract talent, encourage innovation and create jobs and growth.
The new framework promises new transport infrastructure and better urban planning, and aims to “deliver better outcomes for our cities, the people who live in them and all Australians”.
But study co-author Professor Andrew Beer, Dean of Research and Innovation at the University of South Australia, says any political discussion around "smart cities" must also consider that people need smarter solutions to housing affordability.
"Smart cities of the future will need to address the consequences of housing-generated social and economic inequalities in Australia," says Professor Beer.
"In 2016 the political rhetoric around the urban agenda … assumes that building more highways, railways and trams will produce better, more productive cities. But we know it doesn’t work that way.”
Struggle Street series two is produced by KEO Films with funding support from Screen Australia and Film Victoria.
All episodes of Struggle Street will be available to view on SBS On Demand after broadcast.
Episodes one, two and three will encore on Viceland on Friday 1 December from 8.30pm, while episodes four, five and six will encore on Viceland on Friday 8 December from 9pm.
NITV's The Point will host a special show to discuss the issues raised in the documentary on Wednesday 29 November 9.30pm.
The Feed Special will also air on Viceland on Friday 8 December at 8.30pm.