At Home in the Market: Risk, Acculturation and Sector Integration in the Private Rental Tenancies of Humanitarian Migrants

Author: Nicole Loehr

Loehr, Nicole, 2016 At Home in the Market: Risk, Acculturation and Sector Integration in the Private Rental Tenancies of Humanitarian Migrants, Flinders University, School of Social and Policy Studies

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Australia’s humanitarian program relies heavily on the private rental sector to house humanitarian migrants (resettled refugees and asylum seekers). However the strict commodification of housing in the sector has left little room to accommodate the economic, linguistic, familial and cultural characteristics of this population. This research has i) examined what humanitarian migrants are seeking and expecting from their private rental housing, ii) explored how systemic, market and cultural demands compete with these goals and iii) investigated the opportunities and challenges for adaptation and greater sector integration in the private rental housing of humanitarian migrants.

In the context of culturally specific thresholds of what constitutes crowding and deep concern with ‘risk-minimisation’ amongst property managers, the mismatch between Australia’s private rental stock and the housing needs of large families is particularly acute. Therefore, the study includes a focus on the experiences of large humanitarian migrant families. With an emphasis on the city councils of Playford and Salisbury, areas of major refugee resettlement in metropolitan Adelaide, 65 individuals including humanitarian migrants from large households (n=22), real estate agents (n=11), lessors (i.e. property owners; n=10), service providers (n=18) and community leaders (n=4) participated in semi-structured interviews, including Photolanguage techniques.

The analyses revealed how forced migration and early resettlement experiences create particular difficulties for humanitarian migrants in the private rental market. Furthermore, the often mismatched and culturally embedded expectations of what constitutes satisfactory housing, effective communication and adequate home maintenance, was found to contribute to the challenges that all stakeholders encounter in the tenancies of humanitarian migrants. A combination of factors including inadequate housing stock, the conflation between discrimination and tenant selection and property managers’ limited capacity to absorb financial and litigious risk, were found to be significant contributors to the exclusion of humanitarian migrants, and particularly those with large families, from the private rental market.

Social and in particular, cultural capital were resources that were shown to assist both humanitarian migrants and property managers to facilitate more successful tenancies. Encouragingly, relationships between service providers and property managers, based on trust and effective communication also emerged as significant contributors to meeting the housing needs of humanitarian migrants. In particular, lessors, agents and service providers who had experiences of head-leasing or tenancy guarantee programs were overwhelmingly positive of the way in which these programs addressed the needs and vulnerabilities of all stakeholders.

The findings have highlighted the need for more expansive and sustained efforts to better inform the expectations stakeholders have of each other. In addition, agents’ and lessors’ limited exposure to equal opportunity discourse and training presents an opportunity for greater attention to be focused on this area. Although indicators of the ameliorative effects of high social and cultural capital are promising, the findings highlight the merits in focusing private rental housing assistance on humanitarian migrants with limited social and cultural resources.

The widespread compounded discrimination that large humanitarian migrant families face in the private rental market, as well as the financial vulnerabilities of lessors who rely heavily on their rental incomes, indicates that risks for both parties need to be addressed in order to facilitate large families’ equitable access to adequate housing. It is hoped that the findings will contribute to individual practice as well as organisational and public policy debates on how the private rental sector can be more inclusive of humanitarian migrants in a way that is of maximum benefit to all stakeholders.

Keywords: humanitarian migrant, refugee, private rental, housing, discrimination, risk, sector integration

Subject: Policy and Administration thesis, Sociology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2016
School: School of Social and Policy Studies
Supervisor: Dr Keith Miller