Featured Research

Living in limbo: people experiencing housing instability

4 June 2024

What happens when people are ready for housing, but there is no housing ready for them?

Photograph by “Zac”

Life Course Centre research has explored the experiences of those living with housing instability, how they anticipate their futures, and what they consider right and actionable.

“While we are aware of the escalating housing crisis in Australia, we don’t understand very well what it is like to live with uncertainty around housing,” Dr Stefanie Plage explained.

“Getting a better understanding of how it feels, what people in this situation consider important and what they actually do to increase their chances and cope with the risks, matters to be able to better support them.”

To examine and understand these experiences, researchers interviewed nearly 50 people in Southeast Queensland who lived unhoused, in crisis accommodation, boarding houses, or in permanent supportive and social housing after exiting homelessness. 

To enhance the richness in storytelling, some participants also used photography to express their experiences, feelings and hopes. 

“The original purpose of the study was to explore the relationships between housing instability and health,” Dr Plage said.

“It became clear that uncertainty plays a significant role in the lives of people experiencing housing instability and that this is affecting their opportunities for good mental and physical health.

“Their photography shows their daily struggles between hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.”

However, the researchers found while the participants’ future housing status was uncertain, they believed it was always on the horizon.

“They perceived secure housing like climbing a staircase and something with restorative potential in which plans could be made and followed through,” Dr Plage added.

“For many of the participants it evoked hopes for the future such as reconnecting with family, obtaining work, addressing health concerns, and further study and leisure.”    

The research provides further evidence that to achieve stable housing for all in our communities calls for broader societal action. Only sufficient affordable and appropriate housing stock will make sure that people won’t have to live in limbo.  

The study was supported by Micah Projects and St Vincent de Paul Society.

The research by Dr Stefanie Plage, Dr Rose-Marie Stambe, Professor Cameron Parsell and Dr Ella Kuskoff is published in The Journal of Sociology.

Plage, S., Stambe, R.-M., Parsell, C., & Kuskoff, E. (2024). Climbing, stalling, falling: How people experiencing housing instability anticipate their futures. Journal of Sociology, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/14407833241255151