How might the effectiveness of federal housing and homelessness spending be better measured?

In 2014 Homelessness Australia carried out qualitative research among its member organisations to elicit information that could inform the Australian Government and the Department of Social Services (DSS) on ways in which the effectiveness of its homelessness and housing spending could be better measured.

This paper considers accountability mechanisms in existing Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreements on affordable housing and homelessness. It makes recommendations for improving those mechanisms' ability to deliver better outcomes for people who are experiencing homelessness (including those living in severely crowded housing) and for those at risk of homelessness.

Since the present measures of the effectiveness of that spending are contained in COAG's National Agreement on Affordable Housing (NAHA) and National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, the paper is structures around those instruments.

The paper makes thirteen recommendations that focus on four areas; clarifying objectives, outcomes and indicators; transparency and stakeholder engagement; results-driven accountability - directing funding towards the achievement of outcomes, objectives and indicators; and data collection, collation and analysis.


Clarifying objectives, outcomes and indicators

Recommendation 1:
That the NAHA objective be reframed as follows:
Every resident in Australia has access to affordable, safe and sustainable housing that contributes to social and economic participation.

Recommendation 2:
That outcomes be specified for different targeted entities:
a) system/ structurally
b) government agencies
c) programs
d) services
e) population (eg everyone being housed).

Recommendation 3:
That the NAHA outcomes be amended by replacing those in cl 7(b), (c) and (d) with the following:
People are able to purchase or rent housing of a reasonable standard that meets their needs for safe shelter and access to services and labour markets;
Supply of well located affordable or social housing meets demand from people who need to occupy that housing - by amending the outcome in cl (e) so that it reads:
all people entitled to reside permanently in Australia – including Indigenous people, children, young people, women, older people and single people – have the same housing opportunities, and other residents are not denied them without good reason.

Transparency and stakeholder engagement

Recommendation 4:
That governments consult with the homelessness sector about the proposed content of any intergovernmental agreements, partnerships or other instruments that permit or involve changes in homelessness policy, service delivery or funding, within timeframes that allow services (and, where relevant, their clients) to understand and prepare for those changes.

Recommendation 5:
That all COAG agreements, partnerships and associated instruments, including state implementation or project plans and reports required under them, be published
immediately after they are entered into or take effect (whichever is applicable).

Recommendation 6:
That COAG agreements relating to housing or homelessness require that states and territories indicate in their Budget documents what elements of proposed housing and homelessness expenditure will be funded by:
(a) monies obtained from the Commonwealth through an SPP or a NPA alone;
(b) state or territory general revenue alone;
(c) both Commonwealth SPP/NPA funds and state or territory general revenue, and the extent of each government's contribution; and that, where state or territ
ory funding is involved,
(d) the extent to which the expenditure is funded by stock transfers, 'asset recycling' or redirection of program funds from other areas of housing or homelessness.

Results-driven accountability - directing funding towards the achievement of outcomes, objectives and indicators

Recommendation 7:
That future indexation of the NAHA SPP is tied to states and territories undertaking full housing needs assessments, based on their present and likely future populations.

Recommendation 8:
That the Commonwealth (consider) offer(ing) additional incentive payments to expedite state and territory development or planning changes that will improve supply of well-located, low-cost housing, particularly housing that is suitable for single and older people.

Recommendation 9:
That the Commonwealth consider offering additional incentive payments to encourage adequate growth and distribution in social housing stock over defined periods of time, in each jurisdiction, to keep pace with population increases.

Recommendation 10:
That the Commonwealth consider re-allocating a proportion of the NAHA SPP to community housing providers for capital works via a competitive tender process that focuses on increased housing supply.

Data collection, collation and analysis

Recommendation 11:
That governments accept the importance of:

- regular 'SHIP' training for SHS staff that emphasises the importance of the SHSC data set for the sector and its clients (eg as a vehicle for illustrating need, demonstrating where service delivery is effective and identifying gaps to be filled or possible areas of resource reallocation); and
- allocating additional resources to ensure that agencies that would otherwise find it difficult to participate in 'SHIP' can do so.

Recommendation 12:
That consideration be given to altering SHSC questions to take account of the fact that service system entry points may provide different services from other homelessness agencies.

Recommendation 13:
That consideration be given to matching SHSC data with that from other collections (eg NDRAHA) in order to ascertain how homelessness service delivery intersects with other services to achieve outcomes such as sustainment of social housing tenure.

pdfRead the full paper.