This research examines the transformation of public housing in four federal states: Austria, Germany, Canada and the USA and finds Austria to be a leading example of a sustainable affordable housing industry.

  • Project dates: 2015

The research focuses on public housing reform within multi-provider systems and complex governmental settings. In the context of Australia’s own Review of Federation, how four federated governments: the United States (US), Canada, Germany and Austria have managed the transformation of their social housing systems provides valuable insight. Key findings:  Strong and stable intergovernmental and stakeholder commitment underpins successful public housing sectors, in complex federated governance settings.  

Prescriptive centrally driven requirements, such as very narrow income targeting of tenancy allocations, negatively impacts on revenue, concentrates disadvantage and increases demand for support services, as in the US.  

Vibrant and growing multi-provider systems are present in countries where business models are well defined, broadly allocated, publicly supported and well regulated with conditional subsidies contestable, as in Austria.  Devolution of responsibilities without the adequate transfer of resources often deteriorates and reduces public social housing stock in the long term, as in Canada and Germany.  

Insufficient funds to resource capital and operating expenses forces social housing providers to rely more heavily on entrepreneurial activities and shorter term private finance, often increasing rents and asset sales, as in Germany.

Privatisation of public housing can impede the enforcement of social rental contracts, also as in Germany.

Devolution can support local innovation and responsiveness, as in Austria but also lead to fragmentation undermining comprehensive national policy, as in Canada and Germany.  New sources of private funding can significantly supplement declining supply subsidy programs, as in the US and Austria, but can also increase costs for tenants and increase demand for rent assistance.  

Private investment, while accessible to the affordable not-for-profit sector, has not addressed the shortfall in funding for deeply social public housing, as in the US. Deeper insight to the impact of federal state transformation of public housing is provided is via eight local illustrations, which reveals how organisations mediate federal shifts through changes in governance, asset management and human resources.

Key People

Lead researcher

Associate Professor Julie Lawson

Associate Professor Julie Lawson

Associate Professor

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Research Programs

Housing and Urban Economics

Developing a better understanding of how policy and economic activities can be enacted to improve micro- and macro-economic prosperity.

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