The meaning of home

In Australia, the meaning of home is often linked to ownership. To make a home, we must first own it. But what if you don’t own your home? What if you rent? 

These are questions I’m exploring as part of my PhD research. My name is Bronwyn Bate. I am a PhD Candidate in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology’s Urban Research Program at Western Sydney University. My research project, "It's not a house, it's a home": How home is understood and created amongst private renters in Sydney, Australia, investigates how rental tenure impacts the meaning and making of home, and the ways in which private renters understand and create home.

What motivated me to start this project?

While working as a Research Assistant for Dr Emma Power on her project, Renting with Pets in Sydney, Australia: a social and animal welfare challenge, I interviewed over 20 people who rented with pets. During those interviews, I not only heard stories about the challenges people faced renting with pets, but also about their overall renting experiences. Many renters expressed a lack of control over their housing circumstances and their ability to make a home while renting. I wanted to explore some of these issues more deeply in my PhD research.

What has stuck with me during this research?

I am now in the final year of my PhD. While conducting my research, I found three key concerns that have not been widely addressed in research or public discussion.

First, in my recently published paper I argue that there is significant focus by researchers and policy makers on how tenancy law can negatively impact or restrict renters within their homes while actual practices of homemaking by renters are often overlooked. There is a need to understand the ways in which private renters make home – and make home meaningful – so that any changes to tenure law reflect the needs of tenants and not only the current understandings of home, which typically reference what home means to homeowners.

Second, much of the research that examines rental security looks at the rights of a tenant when leasing a rental property but does not consider a tenant’s experiences during the search and application for a private rental property. When exploring tenure security, we need to consider the importance of rental security across the whole of the tenant’s renting life, as they may move multiple times.

Third, the relationship between the property manager and the tenant is extremely important for understanding tenure security and meanings of home for people living in the Australian private rental sector. In the absence of any legislated right to housing, the property manager holds considerable power in deciding who can and cannot lease a rental property.

Final thoughts

Until we change our understanding about what home means, we will never 'fix' Australia's housing crisis. In Australia, the importance of ownership in our definition of home is deeply ingrained. Owning a home is the 'Great Australian Dream'. This 'dream' is based on the idea that if you work hard you will one day be in a position to buy a house.

However, owning a home is becoming impossible for many people, no matter how hard they work. As homeownership becomes less affordable and public housing less available, there is increasing focus on the capacity of private rental housing to provide a long-term housing solution.

Everyone has the right to a home, a place where they feel safe and secure and they know they can stay for as long as they like. We need to reframe the way we think about home and property tenure. Home is a right, not a privilege.

Bronwyn Bate is a PhD scholarship student in the Urban Research Program at Western Sydney University @UrbanSSAP. Her project titled '"It's not a house, it's a home": How home is understood and created among private renters in Sydney, Australia' investigates the ways Australian private renters understand and create home and the ways that tenure impacts the meaning and making of home.