Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Housing assistance in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 27 May 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Housing assistance in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/housing-assistance/housing-assistance-in-australia
Housing assistance in Australia. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 30 June 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/housing-assistance/housing-assistance-in-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Housing assistance in Australia [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2022 May. 27]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/housing-assistance/housing-assistance-in-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Housing assistance in Australia, viewed 27 May 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/housing-assistance/housing-assistance-in-australia
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Ensuring the best fit between a social housing 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 Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS) is a generally accepted standard by which the dwelling size requirements of a given household are measured in Australia. CNOS, however, is not necessarily used by all states/territories in the operation of social housing programs.
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:
Source: Statistics Canada 2019
For more information on the CNOS, see AIHW Metadata Online Registry (METeOR).
Whilst the CNOS is a useful guide to estimate the proportion of dwellings that may be underutilised or overcrowded, 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.
CNOS also does not take into consideration cultural norms, with some studies suggesting that, the approach is particularly problematic for Aboriginal and Torres Strait households (Memmott et al 2003; Memmott 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 2020, the vast majority of social housing households were living in dwellings that met the required occupancy standard. There were more social housing households living in underutilised dwellings (61,000 or 15%) than in overcrowded dwellings (18,500 or 5%) (Figure SUITABILITY.1) (Supplementary table SUITABILTY.1).
Figure SUITABILITY.1: Households, by suitability of dwelling size and social housing program, at 30 June 2019. This horizontal stacked bar graph shows the vast majority of social housing households were living in dwellings that were adequate (80%); there were more social housing households living in underutilised dwellings (16%) than in overcrowded dwellings (5%), in 2019. The majority of households in the public housing (79%) and community housing (85%) were considered to be residing in dwellings adequate to their household composition; compared with SOMIH where 49% of households were considered to be in residing in dwellings that were adequate. SOMIH had the highest proportion of underutilised dwellings (26%) and overcrowded dwellings (25%).
Key characteristics on the suitability of social housing dwellings for households at 30 June 2020 were (Supplementary table SUITABILITY.4):
Overcrowding data for Indigenous community housing and community housing were not available.
In simple 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 2020, 11,000 (4%) public housing and 4,100 (4%) community housing households were in overcrowded dwellings. One in 4 (25% or 3,400 households) SOMIH households were in overcrowded dwellings (Figure SUITABILITY.1) (Supplementary table SUITABILITY.1).
Overcrowding data for Indigenous community housing are not available.
The proportion of overcrowded households in public housing has remained stable at around 4–5% between 2014 and 2020. Overcrowding in community housing has remained at around 4% over the same time period, during a period of considerable growth in overall stock levels (Supplementary table SUITABILITY.1). See Social housing dwellings section for further information.
Nationally, the proportion of overcrowded households in SOMIH decreased from 10% in 2014 to 9% in 2016. The addition of over 5,000 remote public housing dwellings in the Northern Territory to the SOMIH data collection from 2017 increased the overcrowding counts and proportions. This is reflected in the most recent data, which show that overcrowding levels for SOMIH in Australia have been stable for the last four reporting periods, at around one-quarter (24–25%) of SOMIH households (Supplementary table SUITABILITY.1).
The proportion of households in overcrowded dwellings varied across social housing programs, states and territories and remoteness areas. At 30 June 2020 (Figure SUITABILITY.1) (Supplementary table SUITABILITY.1 and 2):
Overcrowding data for remoteness were not available for community housing and Indigenous community housing.
At 30 June 2020, there were 2,800 overcrowded Indigenous households living in public housing, representing almost 1 in 12 (8%) total Indigenous public housing households (Supplementary table SUITABILITY.2).
A dwelling is said to be underutilised when it consists of 2 or more bedrooms surplus to the household requirements as determined by the CNOS measure.
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. There may be no suitable location based alternatives when household composition changes. Underutilisation may also occur due to the housing stock 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 (such as single adult households, see Occupants and households).
At 30 June 2020, 17% of public housing and 11% of community housing households were in underutilised dwellings. Social housing targeted towards Indigenous households had the highest proportion of underutilisation with 27% of SOMIH households living in underutilised dwellings. However, underutilisation data were not available for the Northern Territory for SOMIH or community housing (Figure SUITABILITY.1) (Supplementary table SUITABILITY.1).
Public housing underutilisation has remained steady between 2014 and 2020, at around 16–17%, while there has been some variation for community housing and SOMIH households. Underutilisation for households in SOMIH dwellings increased in recent years from around 23% in 2014 to 27% in 2020 (Supplementary table SUITABILITY.3). For community housing, rates of underutilisation have been variable over these years fluctuating between 9–12% (Figure SUITABILITY.1) (Supplementary table SUITABILITY.1).
The proportion of households in underutilised dwellings varied by state and territory and remoteness area among the social housing programs. Key results at 30 June 2020 include (Figures SUITABILITY.1) (Supplementary tables SUITABILITY.1 and 3):
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