Friendship diversity amongst public housing tenants and private dwellers, and the implications for 'social mix' policy
A consensus has emerged in housing policy that 'social mix' - or a high ratio of middle class homeowners to public housing tenants - is important for reducing neighbourhood disadvantage. It is argued that eroding excessively homogenous and 'bonded' social networks amongst public housing tenants exposes them to wider social networks, providing access to mainstream role models, crime reduction, and improved employment opportunities. However, the homogeneity and informal support available to public tenants in Australia has not been analysed using national data. We examine age, ethnic and educational homogeneity, and informal support, comparing public housing tenants and private dwellers using the 2006 General Social Survey. Counter to expectations, public housing tenants have more heterogeneous friendship groups by all measures, regardless of respondents' age, ethnicity, education or mental health status. In addition, friendship heterogeneity is associated with more informal support in public housing, but less support in private housing. This suggests that resistance to informal social integration flows from homogenous, self-supporting, 'bonded' homeowners and private renters towards public housing tenants rather than the reverse. At a minimum, it raises the question as to how 'socially mixing' already heterogeneous public housing communities will encourage the development of more diverse and supposedly advantageous social networks?
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