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Social housing should be treated like infrastructure – report

Tasmania has recorded the highest number of monthly dwelling approvals in a decade, with 369 being reported, which is expected to continue according to the state government.

Social housing should be treated as a form of essential infrastructure to create a viable basis for private investment, a new study has found.

The study, A conceptual analysis of social housing as infrastructure, undertaken by researchers from the University of Tasmania, the University of New South Wales and RMIT University for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) suggests policy makers adopt pragmatic techniques to promote the value of social housing.

These techniques include cost benefit analyses and business case preparation aligned with strategic arguments.

However, the report warns that solely conceptualising social housing as productive infrastructure risks excluding the valuable aspects of social housing that aren’t as easily monetised or quantified.

It argues that any infrastructure analysis of social housing should account for the broad range of economic and social outcomes at the lower end of the income spectrum instead of conceptualising it as a targeted welfare safety net.

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It defines infrastructure as something which enables the delivery of economic of productivity outcomes or essential services, including rail, roads, public transport and hospitals.

University of Tasmania lead researcher Kathleen Flanagan said housing can be seen as infrastructure as it allows labour to be productive.

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

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

“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,” she said.