Wellbeing outcomes of lower income renters: a multi-level analysis of area effects
Whether it is better to be ‘poor’ in a ‘poor area’ or one that is more socially diverse has been a central concern for research attempting to establish the neighbourhood effects associated with concentrations of disadvantage and for policies aiming to ameliorate these effects. There is general agreement among researchers and policy-makers that neighbourhoods can exert both a negative and positive impact on wellbeing with a strong evidence base, particularly emanating from the US and Western European countries, of where effects are most pronounced and the causal mechanisms underpinning them. However, despite more than two decades of research, there remain critical questions unanswered and methodological challenges to overcome in how researchers adequately isolate the impact of an area from the personal attributes of the individuals who live there.
Being able to isolate the impact of an area above and beyond individual characteristics requires the use of robust longitudinal methods including both quantitative and detailed qualitative area-based ethnographies (van Ham et.al. 2012). There are currently significant gaps associated with both approaches, particularly in Australian studies specifically examining the longitudinal interrelationship between area diversity, the type of housing lived in, and wellbeing outcomes. The general consensus in the Australian evidence is that lower advantaged areas do not necessarily generate universally ‘bad’ outcomes for social rental residents’ wellbeing, and that greater recognition needs to be paid to the wellbeing outcomes of private renters who are also concentrated in more disadvantaged areas.