The effective and appropriate provision of social and affordable housing, as an integral part of the housing continuum, is increasingly difficult in light of current fiscal constraints and changing and increasing housing need. Access to safe and secure housing is however a basic human right and need, and the associated social inclusion is broadly recognized as an integral element of ensuring a sustainable built environment. In 2016, there were around 400,000 households living in social housing in Australia, with around 200,000 on social housing wait lists (Productivity Commission 2016). Additionally, a lack of affordable housing for low to moderate income households is also evident across Australia, with a widening gap between income and market rents. It is thus vital that an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable framework for the provision of such housing is achieved. To meet this challenge, many innovative models are being explored both in Australia and internationally, including partnerships and financing arrangements involving a mix of public, private and not for profit agencies.

This chapter draws on the findings of Australian-based collaborative research undertaken by the Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre (SBEnrc) between 2014 and 2016. Initial research established a productivity-based conceptual framework for understanding the broad benefits of social housing. To measure the broad benefits of having safe and secure housing, nine impact related domains were identified, comprising 53 outcomes and over 180 indicators. These outcomes were based upon a review of both Australian and international literature undertaken in 2014 and 2015, and meetings with representatives from three state-based housing agencies. Similar reviews were undertaken in parallel relating to: attribution; return on investment; and data needs, availability and accessibility. These investigations informed the development of a strategic evaluation framework which includes the Composite to Return On Investment (CROI) approach discussed in this chapter. The intent of this approach is to provide a tool for housing agencies and organization to build a more complete evidence base for demonstrating the benefits of investment in social housing.