Shared room housing in Sydney: an exploration of housing informality, platform technology and home making
Housing and home-making practices are changing in response to ongoing affordability pressures, greater geographical mobility and proliferation of digital technologies. In Anglophone countries, such as Australia, the homeownership rate is declining and the private rental market is growing and diversifying. Within the private rental sector, an increasing number of households and individuals choose to (or are forced to) live in shared housing with non-related tenants and share rental costs. Shared housing has long been a part of housing markets, especially in global cities. However, the shared housing sector is undergoing substantial change as landlords and tenants adopt new digital and informal housing practices, which have both positive and negative implications for residents and the urban systems.
This thesis investigates a growing, yet under-researched, form of shared housing – shared room housing – in Sydney. Shared room housing is a subcategory of shared housing, where tenants share a bedroom or living room with non-related household members. Shared room housing is a distinct housing form due to the sharing of sleeping spaces with non-related tenants, mostly via informal tenancy agreements. Shared room housing is often facilitated by new digital platforms which have reconfigured the processes of housing access and management. A multi-methods approach is mobilised to examine the growth and geographical distribution of shared room housing, tenants’ experiences and vulnerabilities of living in shared room housing, and policy and urban governance challenges arising from informal and digital shared room housing practices in Sydney, Australia.
The thesis advances the conceptual framework of shared room housing as ‘informal and digital’, drawing on the theoretical approaches of housing informality, platform urbanism, and home-making. These theoretical approaches investigate the diverse aspects of shared room housing. A housing informality lens is mobilised to investigate the informal processes and practices in shared room housing, the relationship of these practices with existing tenancy and building regulations, and the implications of these practices for residents and wider urban systems. Platform urbanism offers a framework to explore the changing shared room housing market due to integration with digital platforms and the new opportunities and risks arise for tenants in their search for, access to, and management of shared housing. In addition, a home-making approach provides a framework to investigate shared room home as relational and processual. The shared room home emerges as an ongoing process of making and unmaking, where informal tenure conditions, the spatial and material conditions of the dwelling, and the changing social relations between non-related tenants all influence experience of home.
Shared room housing emerges as a response to housing unaffordability and socio-spatial inequalities in Sydney’s private rental market. Shared room housing provides tenants with opportunities to access housing through informal and digital mechanisms, negotiate tenancy criteria and share rental costs. However, shared room housing is a double-edged sword. Tenants often live in exploitative, overcrowded and unsafe housing conditions that have negative impacts on their health and safety and feelings of home. In addition, shared room housing emerges as a challenge for city management authorities that lack adequate legislative mechanisms to monitor and regulate these dwellings and tenancies. The thesis makes significant contributions to both policy and academic debates by advancing the knowledge of shared room housing and revealing insights into housing experiences and practices which are hidden and lack detailed analysis.