Households and waiting lists

Social housing households data are provided by state and territory housing authorities. The data in this section are the ongoing households as at 30 June of the reference year.

Quick facts

  • At June 2021, there were 417,800 households in the four main social housing programs, increasing from 378,600 in June 2008.
  • The number of households living in public housing decreased from 331,100 in 2008 to 288,300 in 2021.
  • The proportion of households living in social housing in Australia decreased from 4.8% in 2011 to 4.2%, in 2021.
  • In 2021, over 4 in 10 (44%) households in public housing had been in their tenancies for 10 years or more.

Households

Information on the characteristics of households in social housing provides an insight into the demographic profile (such as sex, income status and disability status) of these households. In 2017, about 5,000 dwellings were transferred from Northern Territory remote public housing to SOMIH but households and tenant information for these dwellings was only available for these dwellings from 2018.

Households

For the purposes of this analysis, a household is either an individual or a group of 2 or more related or unrelated people residing in the same dwelling. Information is presented about ongoing households, that is, those with a tenancy that has not concluded by 30 June in the reference year. Complete data were not available for all programs in some states and territories.

At June 2021, there were around 417,800 households living in the four main social housing programs across Australia. In these main social housing programs (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.1; Table HOUSEHOLDS.1):

  • 288,300 households (69%) were in public housing
  • 98,900 households (24%) were in community housing
  • 14,000 households (3.3%) were in SOMIH
  • 16,600 households (3.8%) were in Indigenous community housing.

Figure HOUSEHOLDS.1: Households by social housing program, at 30 June 2008 to 2021

Figure HOUSEHOLDS.1: Households, by social housing program, at June 2008 to June 2021. This vertical stacked bar graph shows the highest proportion of households were in public housing from 2008 (88%) to 2021 (69%). Community housing had the second highest proportion of households at 24% in 2021; increasing from 9.3% in 2008. On the contrary, SOMIH (3.3%) and Indigenous community housing (3.9%) had the lowest proportion of households, with both proportions remaining mostly unchanged from 2008 and 2009, respectively.

State and territory

The states and territories have different models of social housing provision and the number of households largely reflects the number of dwellings in each social housing type.

Of the households in social housing at June 2021 (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.2; Table HOUSEHOLDS.1):

  • The vast majority of households in the Australian Capital Territory were in public housing (93%), with 6.9% in community housing.
  • Households in Tasmania were split almost evenly between public housing and community housing, with 50% in public housing and 48% in community housing. The Northern Territory was similar, albeit split between public housing (40%) and SOMIH (41%).
  • In New South Wales, 32% of households were in community housing and 63% of households were in public housing.

Changes over time

Overall, the number of ongoing households in the four main social housing programs has fluctuated in recent years reflect dwelling changes within each program (see Social Housing Dwellings section). Changes to the number of households in the public housing and community housing programs account for the largest changes to the across time.

From 2008 to 2021, the number of public housing households decreased from 331,100 to 288,300. However, this decrease was offset by the number of community housing households which nearly tripled from 35,000 to 98,900 (Table HOUSEHOLDS.1).

The number of Indigenous community housing households increased from 14,200 in 2009 to 16,600 in 2021. Conversely, the number of SOMIH households has fluctuated over time, decreasing from 12,400 in 2008 to 9,600 households in 2017. SOMIH household data for the Northern Territory were reported for the first time in 2018 and in turn, the number of SOMIH households increased to 13,800. It has remained steady since then with around 14,000 SOMIH households reported in 2021 (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.1; Table HOUSEHOLDS.1).

The change in the proportion of households in the social housing programs varied across the states and territories (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.2). Due to changes in systems and processes, data for individual states and territories may not be comparable across reporting years. In addition, stock movements between the various programs, which changes the patterns of social housing over time, may lead to differences in the data. For example, in 2017–18 in South Australia and 2018–19 in New South Wales, there was a large number of dwellings that were transferred from public housing and/or SOMIH to community housing. This affected the total number of households in these programs.

See the Data quality statements for more information.

Figure HOUSEHOLDS.2: Households, by social housing program and states and territories, at 30 June 2014 to 2021

Figure HOUSEHOLDS.2: Households, by social housing program and states and territories, at June 2014 to June 2021. Nationally, this vertical stacked bar graph shows that public housing had the highest number and proportion of households, from 2014 (317,000 or 78%) to 2021 (288,300 or 69%). The Australian Capital Territory had the highest proportion of public housing from 2014 (95%) to 2021 (93%). Tasmania had the highest proportion of community housing from 2014 (35%) to 2021 (48%). In 2021, of those states and territories that had a SOMIH program, the Northern Territory (41%), had the highest proportion of SOMIH households whereas Tasmania (1.6%) had the lowest proportion of SOMIH households. 

Supply of social housing

There are various methods to quantify the level of social housing in Australia. The following analysis compares the total number of households in social housing to the total number of households in Australia using:

  • the number of households in social housing (public housing, SOMIH, community housing and Indigenous community housing) sourced from the National Housing Assistance Data Repository.
  • The total number of households in Australia sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics household projections series (ABS 2010; ABS 2015; ABS 2019).

In the decade from 2011 to 2021, the number of social housing households increased from 404,300 in 2011 to 417,800 in 2021 (Table SOCIAL SHARE.1). Over this same period, the number of total households in Australia also increased from 8.4 million in 2011 to 10.0 million households in 2021 (ABS 2015; ABS 2019).

While the number of households in social housing has increased over time, and in all states and territories, it has not kept up with the growth in the overall number of households in Australia. The proportion of social housing households making up the total proportion of Australian households has steadily declined since 2011, from 4.8% to 4.2% in 2021 (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.3; Table SOCIAL SHARE.1).

From June 2014 to June 2021, the share of social housing households varied between states and territories (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.3; Table SOCIAL SHARE.1). The proportion of social housing households was less than 5% in 2021 for the four largest states: 4.7% in New South Wales (down from 5.0% in 2014); 2.9% in Victoria (down from 3.5% in 2014); 3.6% in Queensland (down from 3.8% in 2014); and 4.1% in Western Australia (down from 4.4% in 2014). The proportion of social housing households was around 6% in South Australia (6.1%), Tasmania (6.0%) and the Australian Capital Territory (6.5%), although these were lower than 2014 proportions (6.7%, 6.2% and 7.6% respectively). Due to stock transfers, data for the Northern Territory are comparable from 2018. The proportion of social housing households increased from 14.6% in 2018 to 14.8% in 2021.

Figure HOUSEHOLDS.3: Social housing households as a proportion of all Australian households, by states and territories, at 30 June 2010 to 2021

Figure HOUSEHOLDS.3: Social housing households and all Australian households, at June 2010 to 2021. This vertical bar graph shows that the proportion of social housing households decreased over time, starting at 4.7% in 2010 and decreasing from a high of 4.8% in 2012 to 4.2% in 2021.

Key characteristics of households

At June 2021, key characteristics of households in the three main social housing programs (public housing, SOMIH and community housing) were (Table HOUSEHOLDS.4):

  • Almost two-thirds (62%) of main tenants were female; 37% were male.
  • Main tenants aged 55–59 (11%, or 44,500 households) was the largest 5 year age group.
  • Almost a third (33% or 130,500) of main tenants were aged 65 or older.
  • Around than 1 in 6 (15%, or 60,800) households included an Indigenous Australian.
  • More than one third (36%, or 142,900) included a person with a disability.
  • Most households consisted of a single adult (57% or 227,400).

The vast majority of ongoing public housing (95%) and SOMIH (96%) households were low income households (Table HOUSEHOLDS.4), noting that low income data was not available for community housing.

Length of household tenure

Social housing tenants may remain in tenure for long periods of time. Tenure length presented here relates to ongoing tenancy, rather than the total tenancy length of a household in a housing program.

At June 2021, about 44% of public housing, 21% of community housing and 29% of SOMIH households were in the same tenure for more than a decade. In contrast, 3.9% of public housing households and 8.2% of community housing households had been in the same tenure for six months or less (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.5; Table HOUSEHOLDS.6).

The tenancy length profile of community housing differs from public housing. At June 2021, around than 1 in 6 public housing (16%) tenancies were less than 2 years, compared to over 1 in 4 community housing (28%) tenancies. Conversely, public housing had a higher proportion of households with longer tenures, with over 3 in 5 (64%) households that stayed for 5 years or more, compared with 2 in 5 (44%) community housing tenancies (Table HOUSEHOLDS.6).

The length of time households stayed in the same social housing tenancy varied over time and between programs. The number of households with a tenancy length of 20 years or more has increased over time for public housing (37,400 in 2011 to 55,900 in 2021) and SOMIH (800 in 2014 to 1,300 in 2021). For community housing, the number of households with a tenancy length of 20 years or more also increased, from 400 in 2014 to 3,800 in 2021.

Age groups

The length of tenure also differs considerably by the age of the main tenant in the household. At June 2021, for public housing, the number of shorter tenure lengths (less than 2 years) was relatively similar for all reported age groups (ranging from 17% to 19%) with the exception of the 15–24 years group (7.7%). As expected, the longer the tenure length, the higher the proportion of main tenants who were aged 65 or older. Of the over 17,000 households that had been in the same dwelling for 30 years or more, over three quarters (76%) were aged over 65 years (Table HOUSEHOLDS.5).

Figure HOUSEHOLDS.4: Households by tenure length and social housing program, at 30 June 2021

Figure HOUSEHOLDS.5: Households, by tenure length, age group and social housing program, at June 2021. This vertical stacked bar graph shows that across the social housing programs (public housing, community housing and SOMIH), the most common tenure for all age groups was 10 to less than 20 years (90,000). For community housing, the most common tenure length was 2 to less than 5 years for all age groups (27,100), whereas the most common for SOMIH was 5 to less than 10 years (4,000). The most common tenure length for public housing was 10 to less than 20 years (70,400)

Indigenous households

The length of tenure for Indigenous households varied depending upon the housing program. Of these Indigenous households, at June 2021 (Table HOUSEHOLDS.7):

  • 18% of public housing, 29% of SOMIH and 14% of community housing households had been in the same tenure for more than a decade.
  • In comparison, 31% of public housing, 19% of SOMIH and 42% of community housing households had been in place for less than two years.

Data for Indigenous community housing were not available.

Waiting lists

Access to social housing is managed using waiting lists, with priority given to those considered to be high priority applicants (see Priority Group section for definitions of greatest need and special needs households). Fluctuations in the number of people on waiting lists are not necessarily measures of changes in underlying demand for social housing. A number of factors may influence the length of waiting lists including changes to allocation policies, priorities, and eligibility criteria put in place by state/territory housing authorities, as well as their implementation (Dockery et al. 2008). Further, some people who wish to access social housing may not apply due to the long waiting times or lack of available options in their preferred location (Muir et al. 2020). It is also important to note that in some states/territories, applicants may be on more than one waiting list and, as such, combined figures are expected to be an overestimate of the total households. For further details, see the Data quality statements.

Waiting list data for both community housing and Indigenous community housing were unavailable.

At June 2021, the number of households on the waiting list (excluding transfers) were (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.6; Table HOUSEHOLDS.26):

  • 163,500 households on a waiting list for public housing (up from 154,600 at June 2014)
  • 12,100 households on a waiting list for SOMIH dwellings (up from 8,000 at June 2014).

Of those applicants on the waiting list at June 2021 (Table HOUSEHOLDS.26):

  • There were 67,700 greatest need households on the waiting list for public housing; an increase from 43,200 at June 2014.
  • There were over 6,500 greatest need households waiting for SOMIH dwellings, up from 3,800 at June 2014.

Table Figure HOUSEHOLDS.5: Households on the waiting list by public housing and SOMIH, at 30 June 2014 to 2021

Figure HOUSEHOLDS.5: Households on the waiting list, by greatest need status, for public housing and SOMIH, 2014 to 2021. This vertical stacked bar graph shows that the number of greatest need households on waiting list has increased for public housing, with 67,700 (41%) in 2021, compared to 43,200 (28%) in 2014. For SOMIH, the number of greatest need households on the waiting list has increased, with 6,500 (54%) in 2021, compared with 3,800 (48%) in 2014. 

State and territory

There were some notable differences in the proportion of new greatest need households on the waiting lists among the states and territories, which is not unexpected given the criteria for priority needs varies across jurisdictions. Of the applicants on the waiting list, at June 2021 (Table HOUSEHOLDS.27):

  • In New South Wales, 13% (5,900) were new greatest needs households on the waiting list for public housing, compared to 94% (19,900) in Queensland.
  • In Queensland, 98% (5,900) were new greatest needs households on the waiting list for SOMIH, compared to 18% (500) in New South Wales.

Glossary