A home for most Australians is a dwelling that provides shelter, safety, security and privacy. Housing plays a critical role in the health and wellbeing of individual Australians. The availability of affordable, sustainable and appropriate housing underpins good health and the social, educational and economic participation of individuals (AIHW 2011a).

A range of factors, including Australia's growing population and decreasing household size, impact on the supply and cost of housing. The number of households experiencing housing stress-that is, spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs-continues to rise. As the number of households in housing stress increases, so, too, does the importance of housing assistance as an essential 'safety net' for Australians. This report provides information on the range of ways Australians receive housing assistance and details characteristics of those receiving various types of assistance.

In June 2011:

  • more than 1.1 million income units (a single person or couple, with or without dependent children) were receiving Commonwealth Rent Assistance, up slightly (increase of 31,903) from 2010
  • 331,371 households were in public rental housing, and 9,820 in state owned and managed Indigenous housing, down from 333,383 and 11,952, respectively, in 2010
  • 57,901 households were in mainstream community housing, up from 45,975 in 2010
  • 17,543 dwellings were managed and/or owned by Indigenous community housing organisations, down from 19,096 in 2010
  • 38,568 households had been newly assisted by public housing, state owned and managed Indigenous housing and by mainstream community housing programs during 2010-11, up from 34,031 in 2010
  • 159,323 households were supported by private rent assistance programs, up from 154,435 in 2010
  • 44,060 households were supported by home purchase assistance programs, down marginally from 44,210 in 2010.

In recent years, numbers of social housing dwellings have increased only slightly. There has, however, been a gradual but steady shift of focus from the public to the community- managed sector. At 30 June 2011, mainstream community housing managed 14% of social housing dwellings (up from 7% in 2004 and 11% in 2010), public housing managed 79% and the remaining 6% were managed by Indigenous community housing (4%) and state owned and managed Indigenous housing (2%).

Continuing the trend over the last decade, social housing continues to support those in the highest category of need. A total of 75% of allocations in public housing, 59% of state owned and managed Indigenous housing and 72% of mainstream community housing have been provided to people who were homeless, whose life or safety was at risk in their accommodation, whose condition was aggravated by their housing or who had very high rental costs. Housing assistance is also targeted towards special needs groups including Indigenous Australians, young and older Australians and people with disability.