Refugees, housing, and neighbourhoods in Australia

Paul Flatau, V. Colic-Peisker, Alicia Bauskis, Paul Maginn, Petra Buergelt

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review


Executive Summary The majority of refugees resettled in Australia in the last few years came from African countries, the Middle East and Asia. During 2012-13, Australia had an intake of 20 019 humanitarian entrants (those with a refugee or other humanitarian visa), an increase of 45 per cent from the previous year (DIAC 2013g). Ensuring that refugees have access to long-term sustainable housing is one of the greatest challenges facing countries of resettlement (UNHCR 2002). The present study addresses this issue by mapping the housing experiences of refugees in Australia. Our study, Refugees, Housing and Social Inclusion Survey, is a three-year research project, which began in 2012 and focuses on the housing, homelessness, neighbourhood and broader social inclusion experiences of refugees in Perth and Melbourne. The study addresses three key research issues: 1. The housing experiences of refugees and related non-shelter outcomes. To what extent are refugees able to access and sustain long-term suitable and affordable housing? What types of formal and informal assistance are they accessing? What are the barriers to accessing housing? What are the key non-housing outcomes (e.g. employment and education) that are associated with their housing situations over time? What are the experiences of humanitarian entrants with respect to homelessness? 2. The neighbourhood experiences of refugees and related non-shelter outcomes. What are the characteristics of neighbourhoods with high concentrations of refugees? How do refugees experience 'neighbourhood' and to what extent are they affected by the non-housing outcomes associated with 'neighbourhood', such as economic opportunity, social inclusion and wellbeing? To what extent do refugees access dedicated settlement programs? 3. The effectiveness of housing assistance and support programs and settlement assistance in improving housing outcomes and resulting non-shelter outcomes. Are refugees accessing relevant housing, homelessness, and health and wellbeing services available to them when needed? How effective is the homelessness service response to those who are homeless? The present report, Refugees, housing, and neighbourhoods in Australia, is the first of two reports from the study. It includes a literature and policy review, and the analysis of primary quantitative and qualitative data from June 2012 to March 2013 in Perth (Western Australia) and Melbourne (Victoria). These two cities were selected as much for their similarities (e.g. a high refugee intake and suburbs with concentrations of refugee populations), as their differences, such as in the economic environment (strong economic growth in Western Australia running off the resources boom at the time and a consequent rising housing prices in Perth and lower growth in Melbourne). The project involves a mixed methods approach, using both quantitative and qualitative approaches: → A systematic review of the literature and relevant policies that impact on the housing, economic opportunity, social inclusion and wellbeing outcomes of refugees. → A longitudinal survey, the Refugees, Housing and Social Inclusion Survey, conducted with a small cohort of refugees who have been in Australia for one to five years to examine their experiences of housing, neighbourhood and key non-housing outcomes. → A one-off small survey of refugees experiencing homelessness in Perth and Melbourne. → Focus group discussions with policy-makers and service providers to identify relevant issues and processes affecting refugees' housing and neighbourhood outcomes. → Transect walks, where researchers explore a local environment guided by local informants, providing key insights into the refugee experiences of neighbourhood that might not otherwise be uncovered. The systematic literature review presented in this report, reveals that housing and housing programs play a key role in producing positive settlement outcomes for refugees settling in a new country. The Australian Government assumes primary responsibility for the resettlement of refugees and provides a range of programs that provide settlement support. The principal program of support, available for the first six to 12 months following arrival, is the Humanitarian Settlement Services (HSS). For ongoing support requirements for up to five years from arrival, assistance is provided through the Settlement Grants Program (SGP). The first wave of the longitudinal Refugees, Housing and Social Inclusion Survey was completed between June and November 2012. Respondents came from a range of household types, with a balanced gender representation and countries of origin from across the Middle East, South East Asia and Africa. The results revealed that the vast majority (85%) of survey respondents were residing in private rental accommodation, with the remainder staying with friends or family, living in public or community housing, or having purchased their own home. There was no primary homelessness (no shelter) reported over the previous 12 months in our survey respondent group. However, secondary homelessness in the form of staying with family and friends as they had nowhere else to live had been experienced by close to one in 10 respondents in the past 12 months. Despite experiences of social isolation among respondents, the vast majority of survey respondents reported that they had been made to feel welcome in Australia. Focus group participants, many of whom were settlement workers from the HSS and SGP programs, spoke of the difficulties that their clients experienced in accessing and maintaining private rental tenancies including meeting housing costs. These discussions also highlighted the serious problems of homelessness, including primary homelessness, experienced by refugees in Australia. Focus group respondents reported an increase in the number of single men presenting for assistance; difficulties in finding them suitable accommodation was a strong theme in the focus groups. The issue of homelessness within the refugee community is the focus of the second report in this study. The evidence from transect walks revealed issues surrounding a general lack of communication or unfriendliness amongst neighbours who were also concerned about the 'visibility' of groups of refugees, particularly young people, congregating in public places. Overall, the services provided through settlement providers, as well as mainstream housing and homelessness services, were identified as playing a vital role in helping refugees access and maintain housing. In addition, sporting events and church activities were also important factors in bringing the community together. Innovative programs, such as a swimming program run by a multicultural service provider, were important in bringing together those experiencing social isolation, including refugees from different backgrounds and members of mainstream Australian society. The second report of the study Refugees, Housing and Social Inclusion in Australia will: → Provide findings with respect to the housing and community experiences of refugees as they continue their life in Australia (through follow-up waves of the survey and subsequent transect walks). → Present a detailed analysis of homelessness and marginalised housing experiences of refugees. → Consider the policy and practice implications of the research.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationMelbourne, Australia
PublisherAustralian Housing and Urban Research Institute
ISBN (Print)9781922075574
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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