This paper is the final report of a research project spanning three years, exploring three field locations and capturing the stories of forty (plus) housing workers. Using an ethnographic research approach, this paper provides an account of how housing workers use language and stories to make sense of their challenging and changing work. First hand accounts ('stories') about everyday housing work frame the data in this paper, explaining how housing workers in Victoria have experienced and made sense of the shift from public housing as 'affordable housing for the working poor' to 'housing of last resort for the most vulnerable and needy members of the community'. Using a number of composite stories, this paper provides the reader with a glimpse into the work of public housing staff, transporting the reader from the relativley static world of policy and procedure to the more colourful world of tenants with ' high and complex' needs, 'wicked' problems, weary staff and the daily reality of organisational change.
A unique feature of this research is the comparison of how different workers use their stories to build a range of 'socially constructed realities' around the housing work and its wicked problems. With a few exceptions (Saugeres, 1999, Howe, 1998, Clapham et al., 2000, Darcy, 1999) the voices of frontline staff are largley absent from contemporary housing literature. In this paper, I use the stories of frontline staff to build a comparative case study of the socially constructed realities for frontline staff and the corresponding realities of the managers at head office (and vice versa). This 'same problem, different perspective' approach allows the reader to better understand how the same problem is understood and approached in different ways, depending on the individual's organisational role, responsibility and authority. Using stories about 'working with problem tenants', 'collecting rental arrears from the poor and marginalised', maintaining old, neglected properties' and 'coping with organisational change', this paper illustrates how the shifting (and sometimes contradictory) construction of housing problems has meant that the organisation has long struggled to devise and implement sustainable remedies to these problems.
The following pages describe how the problem identified in the Housing Office Review (and experienced in the daily work of the 'modern day' housing worker) are simply a contemporary manifestation of 'age old public housing issues'. This paper describes and explains how housing staff have long used narrative to make sense of their often difficult work and ultimately, how they understand and experience a major process of operational policy change associated with the shift from 'public' housing to 'welfare' housing.
Field of Research
160510 Public Policy
Socio Economic Objective
940299 Government and Politics not elsewhere classified
HERDC Research category
E2 Full written paper - non-refereed / Abstract reviewed
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