Suitability of dwellings
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- At June 2022, of all the households with known suitability of dwelling size:
- The majority (79%) of social housing households were residing in dwellings that were considered to be meeting the standards for their household composition.
- 4.5% of public housing, 26% of state owned and managed Indigenous housing (SOMIH), 3.6% of community housing and 14% of Indigenous community housing households were residing in dwellings that were considered to be overcrowded.
- 17% of public housing, 26% of SOMIH and 11% of community housing households were residing in dwellings considered to be underutilised dwellings.
- Indigenous households were over-represented among the households that were living in overcrowded dwellings. In public housing, 4.5% of all households were living in overcrowded dwellings, while 9.5% of all Indigenous households were living in overcrowded dwellings.
- For public housing, the highest number of overcrowded dwellings were in Major Cities (over 9,100 households) and the highest proportion of overcrowded dwellings were in Very remote areas (9.7%).
In Australia, the suitability of a household’s dwelling size is commonly measured using the Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS). Broadly, the CNOS measures suitability based on whether a dwelling has enough bedrooms for the size and composition of a household (see criteria below).
This section uses CNOS to provide information on how suitable social housing dwellings were for households living in social housing on 30 June of the reference year. It includes information about households living in across the four main social housing programs in Australia.
Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS)
The CNOS measure assesses the suitability of a dwelling for a household according to the following criteria:
- 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.
Based on the CNOS standard, housing utilisation will be described as the following:
- Suitable or adequate: when it meets the CNOS household bedroom requirements
- Underutilised: when it has 2 or more bedrooms surplus to the CNOS bedroom requirement for the household
- Overcrowded: when it requires at least 1 more bedroom
Source: Statistics Canada 2021
For more information on the CNOS, see AIHW Metadata Online Registry (METEOR).
Although this measure is useful for indicating overcrowding in dwellings, it does not necessarily reflect a household’s experience of overcrowding. This is because CNOS does not consider cultural differences in living and sleeping arrangements (Dockery et al. 2022). As such, its classification of overcrowding may not necessarily match the experiences of Indigenous and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse households.
Most social housing households lived in dwellings with enough bedrooms to adequately accommodate the members of their households in 2022. Most households were living in either suitable (79%) or underutilised (15%) dwellings (Figure SUITABILITY.1; Table SUITABILTY.1).
SUITABILITY.1: Households by suitability of dwelling size and social housing program, at 30 June 2014 to 2022
Figure SUITABILITY.1: Households, by suitability of dwelling size, and social housing program, at June 2014 to 2022. This vertical stacked bar graph shows that across the social housing programs (public housing, community housing, SOMIH and Indigenous Community Housing), there were more underutilised households than overcrowded households, from 2014 to 2022. Across the social housing programs, the proportion of underutilised dwellings remained around 15% from 2014 to 2022. Likewise, the proportion of overcrowded dwellings has also remained stable, from 5.0% in 2014 to 5.3% in 2022.
A dwelling is considered overcrowded if it requires 1 or more bedrooms, given the size and composition of the household. In 2022, 5.3% (or 21,300) social housing households were overcrowded. However, the level of overcrowding differed across the various social housing programs. Around 4.5% of households in public housing (12,800) and 3.6% of community housing households (3,600) were living in overcrowded dwellings, consistent with long term trends (Table SUITABILITY.1, Figure SUITABILITY.1). See the Social housing dwellings section for further information on the stock changes between the housing programs.
For SOMIH, about 1 in 4 (26% or 3,500) households were living in overcrowded dwellings (Figure SUITABILITY.1; Table SUITABILITY.1). This proportion has remained stable since 2017, where 5,000 remote public housing dwellings were added to the Northern Territory SOMIH data collection. In Indigenous community housing, about 1in 7 (14% or 1,400) households were in overcrowded dwellings, lower than previous years.
Key characteristics of overcrowded households
At June 2022 (Table Suitability.4):
- Over half of the overcrowded households in public housing (56% or 7,200) and SOMIH (57% or 2,000) had a main tenant aged 35 to 54 years.
- Most of the overcrowded dwellings in SOMIH were mixed composition (79% or 2,800 households). For public housing, overcrowded households were mostly households with a mixed composition (7,000 or 55%) or sole parents with dependent children (3,300 or 26%).
Demographic data on dwelling suitability were not available for community housing.
Location of overcrowded households
Overcrowding in dwellings varied across the state and territories and remoteness areas. At June 2022 (Figure SUITABILITY.1; Tables SUITABILITY.1 and 2):
- For public housing, Northern Territory had the highest proportion (9.1% or 400) of households living in overcrowded dwellings, whereas Victoria had the highest number (3,600 or 5.9%).
- For SOMIH, Northern Territory had the highest number (2,600) and proportion (53%) of households living in overcrowded dwellings. (Note: Northern Territory also has the highest total number of SOMIH households.)
- For community housing, Tasmania had the highest proportion (4.5% or about 400) of households living in overcrowded dwellings, while NSW had the highest number (about 1,900 or 3.8%).
- Major Cities had the highest number of overcrowded public housing households (over 9,100 or 4.2%) but the proportion was highest in very remote areas (9.7% or over 200).
- For SOMIH, very remote areas had the highest number and highest proportion (2,100 or 49%) of households living in overcrowded dwellings.
Overcrowding data by remoteness were not available for community housing.
Of the 12,800 overcrowded public housing households in 2022, about 3,600 (or 28%) were Indigenous households. In public housing, 9.5% of all Indigenous households were living in overcrowded dwellings while only 4.5% of all households were living in overcrowded dwellings. The difference was smaller in community housing, with 4.7% of all Indigenous households living in overcrowded dwellings compared to 3.6% of all households (Table SUITABILITY.2).
A dwelling is underutilised when it contains 2 or more bedrooms surplus to the household requirements. In 2022, around 15% (or 61,400) social housing households were under underutilised. However, underutilisation differed across the programs.
About 48,400 (or 17%) public housing households and 10,800 (or 11%) community housing households were living in underutilised dwellings. SOMIH had the highest proportion of underutilised dwellings across the programs (26% or 2,300).
Underutilisation data were not available for the Northern Territory for SOMIH or community housing (Figure SUITABILITY.1; Table SUITABILITY.1).
Key characteristics of underutilised households
- Most of the households living in underutilised dwellings (71% or 34,400) in public housing and in SOMIH (57% or 1,300) had a main tenant who was 55 years old or over.
- Most of the underutilised dwellings in public housing (72% single, 19% couple) and SOMIH (69% single, 11% couple) were either a single or a couple household.
Location of underutilised households
The proportion of households in underutilised dwellings varied by state and territory and remoteness area across the social housing programs. At June 2022 (Figure SUITABILITY.1; Tables SUITABILITY.1 and 3):
- South Australia had the highest proportion of social housing households living in underutilised dwellings (25%), while New South Wales (21,800) had the highest number of households.
- About 1 in 5 public housing households in inner (19%) and outer (20%) regional areas lived in underutilised dwellings, though the highest number was in major cities (35,200 households or 16%).
- For SOMIH, Major cities had both the highest number (900) and highest proportion (30%) of households living in underutilised dwellings.
Dockery M, Moskos M, Isherwood L and Harris M (2022) ‘How many in a crowd? Assessing overcrowding measures in Australian housing‘, Final report no. 382, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Limited.
Statistics Canada (2021) ‘Housing suitability of private households’, Statistics Canada website, accessed 14 April 2023.