New project investigates how COVID-19 impacts housing stress

RMIT urban researchers have received funding from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute to investigate COVID-19’s impact on housing stress in Melbourne.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of many Australians living with housing affordability stress.

Housing affordability stress – where low-income households spend more than 30% of their income on essential bills, mortgage, taxes, repairs and rent – impacts over a million Australian households.

A new project by the RMIT Centre for Urban Research is investigating how these households are coping with the consequences of coronavirus, including the impacts on health, work, schooling, relationships, access to outside spaces, food and privacy.

Lead investigator and Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor of the College of Design and Social Context, Professor Ralph Horne, says the project will provide critical evidence on the support needed to ensure households can meet their basic needs during and post COVID-19.

“The impacts of COVID-19 involve a complex interplay of social, household and economic factors that we need to understand for better policy making under the current circumstances,” he says.

“While sudden economic hardship disproportionately falls on low-income households, detached housing and regionally located homes are often affected differently to urban apartment dwellers.

“Many lower-paid job sectors, such as hospitality and retail, have no work from home options.

Young people in job sectors such as hospitality and retail feel the strain of housing affordability stress.

“These households are more likely to live in poor housing conditions and they experience compounded difficulties from self-isolation and energy stress from increased electricity and heating fuel use.”

Currently, Horne’s team are examining the experiences of residents in low-income apartments and detached dwellings and the implications of electrical retrofitting for households struggling with energy bills.

Collaborating with Horne on a concurrent Australian Research Council Linkage Project evaluating housing design, Dr Louise Dorignon is collecting online interviews and photographs of homes for the new project.

Constructing a chronological account of housing stress before and after the pandemic will help reveal the challenges imposed by COVID-19, says Dorignon.

“This will show the unpredictable and combined vulnerabilities faced by low-income residents across different dwellings, such as energy poverty or coping with grief and isolation, and their interacting effects,” she says.

The new project will benefit from the established trust of participants and the pre-existing in-depth knowledge of householders’ homes and practices from the ARC Housing Energy Efficiency Transitions (HEET) and Housing Outcomes Metrics and Evaluations (HOME) projects.

“Through home-tours conducted in our previous research, these homes have been thoroughly depicted to us by those living there.

“We have really gained knowledge of these householder’s situations at a domestic scale, which will add analytical and empirical depth to this project.

“Using the new data along with that collected from the HEET and HOME projects will enable us to understand how policy can respond effectively to current challenges experienced by households that were already in housing affordability stress prior to the pandemic, as well as into the future.”

Project outcomes will be published late 2020 to assist governments at all levels in making the best housing policy decisions during and following the coronavirus pandemic.

The Housing Affordability Stress During COVID-19 project team is comprised of Professor Ralph Horne, Dr Nicola Willand, Dr Louise Dorignon and Dr Bhavna Middha.

Story: Chanel Koeleman