Seminar: Unpacking Australian social housing policy: Reified scarcity & the problem space of ‘need’


This paper analyses how social housing provision is governed in Australia. Social housing is today a highly residualised sector due to a combination of declining public investment and the intensified targeting of available stock to households with the greatest need. I argue that residualisation has opened up a distinct ‘problem space’ where policy making and debate are organised around a distinct set of questions and imperatives. Drawing on ongoing research into the management of social housing waitlists in NSW, Queensland and Tasmania, I show how this problem space is characterised by a preoccupation with finding ever more fine-grained ways of targeting social housing to the neediest households in the context of growing scarcity of housing stock. Defining and operationalising ‘neediness’ becomes the focal point for policy making and struggles thereover, overshadowing questions of supply and broader debates about the role of social housing in addressing the housing crisis. The problem space of neediness is thus characterised by a tendency to reify social housing scarcity, transforming it into a natural and inevitable constraint that policy makers must simply manage.


Andrew Clarke is a sociologist with expertise in the areas of urban sociology, social policy, housing studies, and social theory. He researches a variety of urban, housing and welfare issues, including housing insecurity and homelessness, urban governance, social housing provision, and the role of charity in contemporary welfare systems. Andrew is currently researching the governance of social housing waitlists in Australia.

Please email for the zoom link.

Date & time

Wed 20 Oct 2021, 2–3pm




Andrew Clarke


Naomi Snowball


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