Overcrowding and underutilisation

Quick facts

  • At 30 June 2018, 4% of public housing, 24% of state owned and managed Indigenous housing (SOMIH) and 4% of community housing households were considered to be in overcrowded dwellings.
  • The proportion of social housing households in overcrowded conditions was highest for public housing and SOMIH in the Northern Territory (7% and 54%, respectively) and for community housing in New South Wales (6%).
  • At 30 June 2018, 17% of public housing, 26% of SOMIH and 10% of community housing households were considered to be in underutilised dwellings.
  • Underutilisation of dwellings was highest for public housing (27%) and community housing (22%) in South Australia. Underutilisation rates for SOMIH households were highest in South Australia and New South Wales (30% each).

A large part of providing affordable housing that suits individuals and families is ensuring that a dwelling is of an adequate size and configuration to meet the needs of the household. However, ensuring the best fit between dwelling and household requirements is not a straightforward process. It is influenced by the availability of dwellings and dwelling configuration, as well as the age, condition and location of the property. This is in addition to the availability of options and specific household requirements (such as disability modifications), and the cost to relocate existing tenants, as well as their willingness to relocate.

The accepted standard by which the dwelling size requirements of a given household are measured in Australia is the Canadian National Occupancy Standard, commonly referred to as CNOS.

Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS)

A measure of the appropriateness of housing that is sensitive to both household size and composition, the CNOS specifies that:

  • no more than 2 people shall share a bedroom
  • parents or couples may share a bedroom
  • children under 5 years, either of the same sex or opposite sex, may share a bedroom
  • children under 18 years of the same sex may share a bedroom
  • a child aged 5–17 should not share a bedroom with a child under 5 of the opposite sex
  • single adults 18 years and over, and any unpaired children require a separate bedroom.

Source: CMHC 2014

Whilst the CNOS is a useful guide to the proportion of dwellings that may be underutilised or the proportion of households potentially living in overcrowded conditions, there are some cases where a dwelling may not match a household size for good reason. For example, where custody of children is shared; where tenants may have live-in care arrangements; or to take into consideration future needs of children who may need separate bedrooms in years to come. Further, CNOS does not take into consideration cultural norms, with some studies suggesting that the approach is particularly problematic for Aboriginal and Torres Strait households (Memmot et al 2003, Memmot et al 2011, Pholeros 2010). Regardless of the appropriateness of the measure, overcrowding based on CNOS has been found to adversely affect the physical and mental health of residents (AIHW 2014, Booth & Carroll 2005, SCRGSP 2016).

At 30 June 2018, the majority of social housing households were considered to be residing in dwellings adequate to their household composition (Table MATCHING.1).

Table MATCHING.1: Appropriateness of dwelling size(a) in social housing, 30 June 2018 (per cent)

Social housing program

Overcrowded

Adequate

Underutilised

Total

Public housing

3.8

79.3

16.9

100.0

SOMIH(b)

24.2

49.4

26.4

100.0

Community housing(c)

4.3

85.4

10.3

100.0

(a) The match of dwelling size to registered tenant numbers at a point in time is affected by a range of factors including changes in family structure over time, the match of housing portfolio to demand, and tenant support needs. Housing authority allocation policies may not align with the Canadian National Occupancy Standard and may provide for additional bedrooms including under circumstances such as shared parenting, carer requirements, or expectant mothers.
(b) Underutilisation is not reported for NT data. NT SOMIH households are included in the 'adequate' category.
(c) Detailed tenancy information for Qld were unavailable for 427 households. Excludes NT data which were not available.

Notes

1. Utilisation is based on the Canadian National Occupancy Standard:
- Overcrowding is defined as requiring one or more bedrooms.
- Underutilisation is defined as having two or more spare bedrooms.
- Excludes households where housing utilisation was unknown.
2. Data for housing utilisation in Indigenous community housing were unavailable.
Source: AIHW National Housing Assistance Data Repository. Supplementary table MATCHING.1.

Overcrowding

In basic terms, overcrowding occurs when the dwelling is too small for the size and composition of the household living in it. In Australia, a dwelling requiring at least 1 additional bedroom is designated as overcrowded, as defined by the CNOS standard described above.

At 30 June 2018, 4% of public housing and 4% of community housing households were in overcrowded dwellings (Table MATCHING.1), similar to the previous collection year (AIHW 2018, Supplementary table MATCHING.1).

At June 30 2018, 1 in 4 (24%) SOMIH households were in overcrowded dwellings. In 2016–17, over 5,000 remote dwellings in the Northern Territory were included in the SOMIH data collection for the first time. Previously these were reported separately as 'NT remote public housing dwellings'. This change would have contributed to the increase in the proportion of SOMIH households in overcrowded dwellings (9% in 2015–16, 24% in 2016–17) (Supplementary table OVER.4). Excluding these 5,000 remote dwellings in the Northern Territory, 9% of SOMIH dwellings were overcrowded in 2017–18.  

Overcrowding data for households in Indigenous community housing were not available.

Location

The proportion of households in overcrowded dwellings varied across social housing programs, state/territories and remoteness areas. At 30 June 2018:

  • the Northern Territory had the highest proportion of public housing households living in overcrowded dwellings (7%), followed by Tasmania (5%) and the Australian Capital Territory (4%).
  • SOMIH households in the Northern Territory experienced the highest proportion of overcrowding (54%).
  • the highest proportion of community housing households experiencing overcrowding was in New South Wales (6%) (Supplementary table OVER.2).

Overcrowding in Indigenous households

Generally, the CNOS model is a useful tool for assessing overcrowding and it allows comparison between different population groups using the same standard. However, as noted earlier, this method may not be appropriate for measuring overcrowding within the Indigenous context. The measure may not reflect the specific cultural and behavioural factors that influence household size such as a strong connection to family and a culture of sharing accommodation. It may also not reflect that Indigenous household sizes can fluctuate due to temporary or semi-permanent visitors (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: a focus report on housing and homelessness) (AIHW 2019).

Overall, Indigenous households were more likely than non-Indigenous households to be living in overcrowded conditions. The proportion of Indigenous households in social housing living in overcrowded conditions generally increased with increasing remoteness. Indigenous households experiencing overcrowding in public housing dwellings were more likely to be in Very remote (11%) and Remote (10%) areas compared with Major cities (8%). Similarly, Indigenous SOMIH households in Very remote (50%) and Remote (31%) areas were more likely to be living in overcrowded conditions than those living in Major cities (7%) (Supplementary table OVER.3). This remoteness area data for SOMIH includes the Northern Territory for the first time in 2017–18 (for further information, please see Data quality statements).

Change over time

Between 2009–10 and 2017–18, the proportion of households living in overcrowded conditions has varied across social housing programs (Figure MATCHING.1). Some of this change can be attributed to reporting and data availability and, therefore, data may not be strictly comparable over time.

Overcrowding in public housing has remained stable at around 4–5% between 2009–10 and 2017–18. Similarly, overcrowding in community housing has remained at around 2–4% over the same time period, during a period of considerable growth (Supplementary table OVER.4; see Social housing dwellings section for further information).

Overcrowding in SOMIH decreased slightly from 10% in 2009–10 to just under 9% in 2015–16. As described earlier, the addition of over 5,000 remote public housing dwellings in the Northern Territory to the SOMIH data collection from 2016–17 has influenced the proportion of overcrowding. This is reflected in the latest 2017–18 data that shows almost one-quarter (24%) of SOMIH households were in overcrowded dwellings.

This data visualisation displays the proportion of households in each of the 3 main social housing programs that were overcrowded, from 2009–10 to 2017–18.

Underutilisation

Just as dwellings can be overcrowded, they can also be underutilised. A dwelling is said to be underutilised when it consists of 2 or more bedrooms surplus to the household requirements, as determined by CNOS measures.

Underutilisation can arise as a household ages and children leave the family home. Interpretation of underutilisation data needs to consider the circumstances of tenants. For example, tenants may have been living in a home for a number of years and their economic, social and community life is centred around that location, and there may be no suitable alternatives for relocation. Underutilisation may also occur, in part, due to the public housing stock itself being dominated by family-sized homes with 3 or more bedrooms (see Social housing dwellings) which may not be consistent with the overall social housing household composition profile.

At 30 June 2018, 17% of public housing and 10% of community housing households were in underutilised dwellings (Table MATCHING.1). Social housing targeted towards Indigenous households had the highest proportion of underutilisation with 26% of SOMIH households living in underutilised dwellings (Supplementary table UNDER.5). Underutilisation data were not available for the Northern Territory for SOMIH or community housing.

Location

The proportion of households in underutilised dwellings varied by state and territory and remoteness area among the social housing programs (Supplementary table UNDER.5):

  • For public housing, South Australia had the highest proportion of households in underutilised dwellings at over 1 in 4 households (27%), followed by the Australian Capital Territory (18%). The Northern Territory had the lowest (7%).
  • Of the available SOMIH household data, both South Australia and New South Wales reported the highest proportions of households living in underutilised dwellings (30% each) while Tasmania reported the lowest (18%).
  • For households in community housing, South Australia had the highest proportion of underutilisation (22%), followed by Tasmania (21%). The Australian Capital Territory and Victoria recorded the lowest proportion of underutilisation, both at around 2%.

The proportion of households in underutilised public housing dwellings varied substantially across remoteness areas. Of the public housing households, those in Outer regional areas were most likely to be living in underutilised dwellings (21%), compared with 15% in Remote areas.

The distribution of underutilised SOMIH households ranged from 22% in Very remote areas to 28% in Major cities (Supplementary table UNDER.6).

Change over time

Between 2011–12 and 2017–18, underutilisation rates among social housing programs have varied. Some of this change can be attributed to reporting and data availability and therefore, data may not be comparable over time.

Public housing underutilisation has remained steady between 2011–12 and 2017–18, at around 16–17%, while there has been some variation for community housing and SOMIH households (Figure MATCHING.2). Underutilisation for households in SOMIH dwellings increased in recent years from 22% in 2012–13 to 26% in 2017–18. For community housing, rates of underutilisation have been variable over these 7 years fluctuating between 9% and 13% between 2011–12 and 2017–18.

This data visualisation displays the proportion of households in each of the 3 main social housing programs that were underutilised, from 2011–12 to 2017–18.

Glossary

References

  1. CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) 2014. Housing in Canada Online - Definitions of Variables. Viewed 10 April 2019, https://cmhc.beyond2020.com/HiCODefinitions_EN.html#_Suitable_dwellings.
  2. Memmott P, Long S & Chambers C 2003. Categories of Indigenous ‘homeless’ people and good practice responses to their needs. AHURI Positioning Paper No. 53. Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.
  3. Memmott P, Birdsall-Jones C, Go-Sam C, Greenop K & Corunna V. 2011. Modelling crowding in Aboriginal Australia. AHURI Positioning Paper No.141. Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.
  4. Pholeros P 2010. Will the Crowding Be Over or Will There Still Be Overcrowding in Indigenous Housing?: Lessons from the Housing for Health Projects 1985-2010 (online). Developing Practice: The Child, Youth and Family Work Journal, No. 27, Summer 2010: 8–18. Viewed 4 June 2019, 
    <https://search.informit.com.au/fullText;dn=595734338681191;res=IELHSS>. ISSN: 1445-6818.
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2014. Housing circumstances of Indigenous households: tenure and overcrowding. Cat no. IHW 132. Canberra: AIHW.
  6. Booth A & Carroll N 2005. Overcrowding and Indigenous health in Australia. Centre for Economic Policy Research Discussion Paper no. 498. Canberra: Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University.
  7. SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2016. Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2016. Canberra: Productivity Commission.
  8. AIHW 2018. Housing assistance in Australia 2018. Cat. no. HOU 296. Canberra: AIHW.
  9. AIHW 2019. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: a focus report on housing and homelessness. Cat. no. HOU 301. Canberra: AIHW.