Exploring the hidden emotional toll of Australia's public housing relocations
Announcements made without tenant notification causes anxiety and reduces trust. Image: Canva, AI generated.
  • Public housing relocations induce stress, affecting well-being and community bonds.
  • Scarcity of housing options intensifies stress for displaced public housing tenants.
  • Media plays vital role; clear, early information eases public housing relocations.

While it is well known that moving houses is often an arduous task involving substantial amounts of money, time, and stress, less attention has been given to how it affects public housing tenants.

New Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) research has shed light on this issue, pointing to how relocation can often be a traumatic experience for tenants, even if their housing outcomes are ameliorated.

Understanding the drivers and outcomes of public housing tenant relocation seeks to unpack the causes and experiences of tenant relocation from public housing in New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania.

Public housing relations are rising

Relocations are growing more frequent due to the escalating pressures on Australia’s public housing. Houses are being demolished due to bloated maintenance costs, redundant stock, and low-quality builds, with tenants being subsequently forced to relocate.

“As part of our research, we investigated two causes of tenant relocation. Department-initiated relocation is where government housing departments relocate tenants because housing is to be renewed,” says RMIT University professor and lead researcher, Libby Porter.

“Tenant-initiated relocation is where a tenant requests to transfer to another public housing dwelling, often because they feel their housing is unfit or unsafe. Our research found that both reasons can cause severe stress for tenants.”

“In particular, when relocation is initiated by the housing departments, tenants can experience a strong sense of displacement, with negative impacts of uncertainty and confusion, impacts on mental and physical health, dislocation from community, loneliness and loss of stability.”

Libby Porter, RMIT University Professor

Feeling ‘placeless’

Though housing outcomes may be bettered, relocations may still induce strong emotional distress for tenants, affecting their well-being before, during, and after being relocated.

Additionally, relocation can erase relationships between vulnerable residents and the broader community.

A related concept to this phenomenon is called ‘domicide’, which happens when one loses their sense of home and place, resulting in people having strong feelings of being out of place and sorrow for having lost their home.

No option other than to move

One of the key factors driving tenant experiences is the dearth of housing options meeting their needs when they must relocate.

The scarcity of public housing means that departments often depend on head leasing private rentals, an arrangement often associated with disruption and housing insecurity.

Residents of soon-to-be-renewed public housing estates experience severe stress upon learning that their housing stability has reversed, a situation often worsened by impending relocation deadlines.

Making for a gentler move

The researchers gave several suggestions whereby relocations can be made less demanding on public housing residents.

“Clear, honest, early and ongoing information is critical to a successful renewal and relocation process. Our research shows that the media has an important role in getting the renewal right,” says Porter.

“Announcements made by ministers, government departments or development partners before residents have been informed causes considerable anxiety for tenants and reduces their trust in the process.”

“This makes the job of those who work to relocate tenants much more difficult. A commitment should be made that for all redevelopment and relocation processes, the tenants themselves are the first to be notified.”

To ensure residents and the community are well-informed, media outlets should convey timely, accurate and detailed information from the government about renewal programs and relocation processes.

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