City Futures Research Centre UNSW Built Environment

Public Housing Stock Transfers in Australia

The Australian Government has pledged significant reform for social housing, centred on expanding the role and scale of community housing providers (CHPs) whose non-public status affords them financial and other advantages (Plibersek, 2009). Influenced by this commitment, State and Territory Housing Ministers agreed in 2009 to expanding the not-for-profit (NFP) sector to account for up to 35% of social housing by 2014 (Housing Ministers Council, 2009). Only via a much expanded program of tenanted stock transfers from the state housing agencies (SHAs) could this target be achieved. Informed by a review of such transactions already undertaken in Australia, and drawing on relevant international experience, this study aims to identify the issues needing to be addressed to develop a strategic  framework which may well be required to facilitate larger scale transfers.

Led by Professor Hal Pawson, this project addresses the following specific research questions:

(i).   What forms of stock transfer have been tried by each state/territory over the last 10-15 years?

(ii).   What objectives have stock transfers aimed to fulfil and to what extent have these been met?

(iii).  What key learnings have been derived from existing experience – e.g. on accounting, taxation, staffing and resident involvement?

(iv).  What forms and scale of transfer are currently envisaged across all states and territories?

(v).  How does the Australian experience compare with stock transfer models in the UK?

(vi).  What should be the conceptual foundations and best practice principles of larger-scale stock transfer?

(vii). What policy, operational and financial barriers would need to be overcome to support larger scale tenanted transfers in future?

To provide a national overview on transfer experience and proposals the study will include a questionnaire survey of SHAs. The resulting typology of transfer variants will inform selection of six ‘case studies’ to facilitate a more in-depth investigation of each model. In each instance, this will involve interviews with senior government officials knowledgeable about the relevant transaction(s) and their counterpart managers in the receiving provider organisation. For a consumer view of implementation and outcomes, residents focus group meetings will be convened. Specialised advice on accounting, tax and leverage potential associated with transfers is also included.

A review of academic and grey literature will compare Australian practice with experience in the UK where the outcomes of a long-running stock transfer program are potentially relevant. This will highlight practical implementation approaches and techniques possibly needing to be considered in Australia if transfer activity is to be significantly scaled up.

In exploring the appropriate conceptual foundations for a larger scale stock transfer program in Australia we will consider the extent to which this should be portrayed as mainly concerned with enhancing the quantity and/or quality of social housing, improving resident services or alignment with ‘higher level’ principles, such as increasing choice and contestability.

Drawing on previous Australian and international experience, and informed additionally by stakeholder and expert inputs, the study will propose conceptual foundations and a strategic framework for a larger scale stock transfer program suited to the Australian policy and institutional context. With expert knowledge of social housing reform, internationally, as well as the Australian policy and administrative context, our research team is well-qualified to undertake this study.