Thinking differently about our future “home’’

Few debates in Australia dominate domestic discussions more than the home – and most often, the focus is how much it costs to put a roof over our heads. But costs – and the component parts of interest rates, mortgages and rent – are really only part of what drives the nation’s housing system.

After seven years of research, The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) has just released a publication that recognises that more than 45 percent of Australian households live in a way that holds them back. That old notion of the Australian love affair with the quarter acre block may actually be stopping many of us getting ahead. It’s a new way of looking at the notion of “home’’ but it’s central to the approach behind TACSI’s The Future of Home.

As Brugh O’Brien, Principal: Future of Home at TACSI says, there is widespread agreement that “home and the housing system’’ in Australia is broken.

The first step to understanding the issues tied up in the Australian housing system is to see “home’’ as something beyond an economic equation – that income combined with aspiration turns property in to a home. Or put another way, that acquiring a property is dependent on the push and pull of supply and affordability.

TACSI’s approach is to consider an alternative, more layered and subtle discussion about actually what makes a home, a quite different equation that reflects the social and community elements that create a sense of belonging that helps build, agency, identity and connections. In this new world, our homes become integral to helping us reaching our potential.

It is, without doubt, a plan for widespread system change, to help create in Australia a different way of thinking about the notion of “home’’, and through that, a new housing system.

“We are trying to create an idea beyond housing, because if we’re going to talk about shifting this, understanding the nuance and the difference between ‘home’ and “housing’’ is really the starting point,’’ Brugh says.

“The debate in Australia is very much formed around the notion of housing and that just really means you’ve got a roof over your head. What we’re saying is that a roof alone often isn’t the answer that people think it is.’’

 The TACSI research identifies three key functions that are critical to its new framework – they are agency, connection and identity. Agency ensures your ‘home’ helps you have some control of your life; identity is ‘home’s’ capacity to express who you are now, to honour who you once were and provide the pointer to our future selves; connection is when your ‘home’ enables you to have formal or informal support to get the most out of your life and speaks most directly to the power of our neighbourhood.

In the abstract, these functions may seem hard to conceive but they take on a different resonance when they are attached to more familiar ideas. For example, making sure homes are designed with the people who will live in them. Put health care and other services around the home. Find new ways of financing to increase affordability and broaden how we define and enable ownership. It’s these kind of changes in thinking – and ultimately policy, across government and corporate Australia – that is fundamental to TACSI’s goal to reorient what we now call “our housing system’’ to a new “system for home.’’

Ultimately, the goal is that by creating a “system for home’’, Australia is also reducing disadvantage and making inroads in the housing affordability crisis.

It seems a bold approach to invite Australians to think differently about the idea of home, but the alternative – to keep going as we are – may leave thousands of Australians in insecure accommodation, mortgage stress and confronting homelessness.  “We definitely need a radical change,’’ Brugh says. And changing the language is the clear signal of a deeper, more lasting intent to shift the dial away from inequity to something more lasting. But it will need innovation and commitment. And that’s where philanthropy has something to offer.

“There is absolute potential for philanthropy to play a role in contributing to increasing the diversity in the [housing] system, to create new forms of housing, new forms of financial products and support experimentation in real world contexts so we better understand what has potential for impact and at scale,’’ Brugh says.

While philanthropy is often cast in the role of providing the risk capital, the real risk in changing the housing system may not be so great. “It just feels risky because it’s not reflective of the status quo,’’ Brugh says. “But there are real opportunities in challenging and evolving what the status quo is.’’

TACSI’s picture of the new system is built into six parts: policy and markets for home; places and communities for home; finance for home; design for home; services for home and innovation for home. Together, they make up what could be the “ideal home’’ of the future.

“One of the key questions is how do you get this to scale,’’ Brugh says, “because without scale, we don’t have systems change.’’ And such a change always takes time, and usually a lot of it. “I often joke and say if we’re successful, we probably won’t see the outcome in our lifetime.’’ Brugh says. “But we shouldn’t see that as an excuse not to act now, because by acting now we increase the likelihood of enabling both our current and future generations to live better lives, especially as our current younger and middle-aged cohorts’ transition to older age.”

Click here to learn more about TACSI's Future of Home.
For more on Philanthropy Australia’s recent series on systems change, visit the Better Giving Hub here.

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