Households and waiting lists
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- At June 2022, there were 418,400 households in the four main social housing programs, an increase from 378,600 in 2008.
- The number of households living in public housing decreased from 331,100 in 2008 to 286,000 in 2022.
- The proportion of households living in social housing in Australia decreased from 4.8% in 2011 to 4.1%, in 2022.
- In 2022, over 4 in 10 (44%) households in public housing had been in their tenancies for 10 years or more.
Information on the characteristics of households (such as sex, income status and disability status) provides an insight into the demographic profile of social housing households.
Note: 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.
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.
Household composition describes the group of people living in household in a dwelling and is based on couple and parent–child relationships. A single-family household contains a main tenant only, or a main tenant residing with a partner and/or the main tenant’s children. Group households consist of 2 or more tenants aged 16 or over who are not in a couple or parent–child relationship. Mixed households are households not described by the other two types–for example, multiple single-family households.
At June 2022, there were around 418,400 households living in the four main social housing programs across Australia. Among social housing programs (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.1; Table HOUSEHOLDS.1):
- 286,000 households (68%) were in public housing
- 102,600 households (25%) were in community housing
- 13,500 households (3.2%) were in SOMIH
- 16,300 households (3.9%) were in Indigenous community housing.
Figure HOUSEHOLDS.1: Households by social housing program, at June 2005 to 2022
Figure DWELLINGS.2: Dwellings, by social housing program, by state or territory, at June 2014 to 2022. This vertical stacked bar graph shows the highest proportion of households living in public housing from 2005 (89%) to 2022 (68%). Community housing had the second highest proportion of households at 25% in 2022; increasing from 7.5% in 2005. In contrast, SOMIH (3.2%) and Indigenous community housing (3.9%) had the lowest proportion of households, with both proportions remaining mostly unchanged from 2005 and 2009, respectively.
State and territory
Each state and territory in Australia, employs a variety of different models of social housing provision. In addition, the number of households largely reflect the number of social housing dwelling types available to providers for allocation.
Of the social housing households at June 2022 (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.1; Table HOUSEHOLDS.1):
- In most states and territories, public housing households made up the majority of social housing households, followed by community housing.
- The majority of social housing households in Tasmania were community housing (64%), followed by public housing (35%).
- Households in the Northern Territory were roughly evenly split between public housing (39%) and SOMIH (41%), followed by Indigenous community housing (15%).
Changes over time
The number of ongoing households in the four main social housing programs has fluctuated in recent years reflecting dwelling changes within each program (see Social Housing Dwellings section). Changes to the number of households in public housing and community housing programs account for the largest changes across time.
From 2008 to 2022, the number of public housing households decreased from 331,100 to 286,000. However, this decrease was offset by the number of community housing households which nearly tripled from 35,000 to 102,600 (Table HOUSEHOLDS.1).
The number of Indigenous community housing households increased from 14,200 in 2009 to 16,300 in 2022. 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 13,500 SOMIH households reported in 2022 (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.1; Table HOUSEHOLDS.1).
The change in the proportion of households in each of the social housing programs varied across states and territories (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.1). 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, 2018–19 in New South Wales, Tasmania in 2021–22 there was a large number of dwellings that were transferred from public housing and/or SOMIH to community housing. This impacted the total number of households in these programs.
See the Data quality statements for more information.
The following analysis compares the total number of households in social housing to the total number of households in Australia using:
- the number of social housing households (public housing, SOMIH, community housing and Indigenous community housing)
- 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 years from 2011 to 2022, the number of social housing households increased from 404,300 in 2011 to 418,400 in 2022 (Table SOCIAL SHARE.1). Over this same period, the number of total households in Australia also increased from 8.4 million in 2011 to 10.1 million households in 2022 (ABS 2015; ABS 2019).
The overall growth of social housing households has not kept up with the overall growth in the total number of households in Australia. The amount of social housing households as a proportion of Australian households has seen a steady decline since 2011, from 4.8% to 4.1% in 2022 (Table SOCIAL SHARE.1).
From June 2014 to June 2022, the share of social housing households varied between states and territories (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.2; Table SOCIAL SHARE.1). In 2022, the proportion of social housing households was less than 5% 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); 3.5% in Queensland (down from 3.8% in 2014); and 3.9% in Western Australia (down from 4.4% in 2014). The proportion of social housing households was around 6% in South Australia (6.1%), Tasmania (6.1%) and the Australian Capital Territory (6.3%), 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 remained stable at 14.6% in 2018 and 2022.
Figure HOUSEHOLDS.2: Social housing households as a proportion of all Australian households, by states and territories, at June 2008 to 2022
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At June 2022, key characteristics of household composition in the three main social housing programs; public housing, SOMIH and community housing; Indigenous community housing data were not available (Table HOUSEHOLDS.4):
- Over 6 in 10 (62%) of main tenants were female; 37% were male.
- Main tenants aged 75 and over (14% or 57,800 households) were the largest 5 year age group, followed by main tenants aged 60–64 (11% or 44,800 households).
- Almost two thirds (65% or 263,000 households) of all main tenants were aged over 50 years.
- Around 1 in 6 (16%, or 62,900) households included an Indigenous Australian.
- More than one third (36%, or 145,300) included a person with a disability.
- Most households consisted of a single adult (58% or 231,100).
The vast majority of ongoing public housing (96%), SOMIH (98%), and community housing households (92%) were low-income households (Table HOUSEHOLDS.4).
Social housing tenants may remain in tenure for long periods of time. Tenure length presented here relates to the length of ongoing tenancies, rather than tenure length experiences within the social housing system. Tenure length is not available for Indigenous community housing.
At June 2022, about 44% of public housing, 32% of SOMIH and 22% of community housing households had been in their current dwelling for more than a decade. In contrast, 4.0% of public housing households and 7.5% of community housing households had been in the same tenure for six months or less (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.3; Table HOUSEHOLDS.6).
The tenancy length profile differs between the social housing programs. At June 2022, around than 1 in 6 public housing (15%) 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 almost two thirds (65%) of households who had been in the same dwelling for 5 years or more, compared with 2 in 5 (43%) community housing tenancies (Table HOUSEHOLDS.6).
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 57,200 in 2022) and SOMIH (900 in 2014 to 1,300 in 2022). For community housing, the number of households with a tenancy length of 20 years or more also increased, from around 400 in 2014 to 4,100 in 2022.
The length of tenure also differs considerably by the age of the main tenant in the household. At June 2022, for public housing, the number of shorter tenure lengths (less than 2 years) was relatively similar for all reported age groups (ranging from 7,800 to 8,500) with the exception of the 15–24 years group (3,100). As expected, the longer the tenure length, the higher the proportion of main tenants who were aged 65 or older. Of the 17,900 public housing households that had been in the same dwelling for 30 years or more, over three quarters (77%) were aged over 65 years (Table HOUSEHOLDS.5).
Figure HOUSEHOLDS.3: Households by tenure length and social housing program, at June 2022
Figure HOUSEHOLDS 3: Number of households, by tenure length, age group and social housing program, at June 2022. 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 (90,700). For community housing, the most common tenure length was 2 to less than 5 years for all age groups (28,400), whereas the most common for SOMIH was 5 to less than 10 years (3,700). The most common tenure length for public housing was 10 to less than 20 years (69,000).
The length of tenure for Indigenous households varied depending upon the housing program. Of Indigenous households at June 2022 (Table HOUSEHOLDS.7):
- 19% of public housing, 32% of SOMIH and 14% of community housing Indigenous households had been in the same tenure for more than a decade.
- 28% of public housing, 16% of SOMIH and 40% of community housing Indigenous households had been in the same tenure for less than two years.
Data for Indigenous community housing were not available.
In all states and territories, access to social housing is managed through the use of waiting lists with priority given to those considered to be high priority applicants (see Priority Groups). Fluctuations in the number of people on waiting lists are not necessarily measures of changes in underlying demand for social housing. Factors that may influence the length of waiting lists include 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, applicants accessing social housing may not apply due to the associated length of the waitlist and associated time to be allocated a dwelling, or the lack of available dwellings in their preferred location (Muir et al. 2020). Importantly, in some states/territories, applicants may be on more than one waiting list, as wait list are held by programs, as such, combined figures could be an overestimate of total households on social housing waitlists.
For further details, see the Data quality statements.
Waiting list data for both community housing and Indigenous community housing were unavailable.
At June 2022, the number of households on a waiting list (excluding transfers) were (Figure HOUSEHOLDS.4; Table HOUSEHOLDS.26):
- 174,600 households waiting to be allocated public housing (up from 154,600 at June 2014)
- 13,700 households on a waiting list for a SOMIH dwelling (up from 8,000 at June 2014).
Of those applicants on a waiting list at June 2022 (Table HOUSEHOLDS.26):
- There were 68,000 greatest need households on the waiting list for public housing; an increase from 43,200 at June 2014.
- There were over 7,100 greatest need households waiting for SOMIH dwellings, up from 3,800 at June 2014.
Table Figure HOUSEHOLDS.4: Households on the waiting list by public housing and SOMIH, at June 2014 to 2022
Figure HOUSEHOLDS.4: Number of households on a waiting list, by greatest need status, for public housing and SOMIH, 2014 to 2022. This vertical stacked bar graph shows that the number of greatest need households on waiting list has increased for public housing, with 68,000 (40%) in 2022, compared to 43,200 (28%) in 2014. For SOMIH, the number of greatest need households on the waiting list has increased, with 7,100 (52%) in 2022, 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 2022 (Table HOUSEHOLDS.27):
- The proportion of applicants that were greatest need for public housing ranged from 11% in New South Wales, to 86% in Queensland.
- The pattern was similar for SOMIH with 94% (or 6,400) greatest needs households on the waiting list for Queensland, compared to 15% (or 86) in South Australia.
ABS (2010) ‘Household and Family Projections, Australia, 2006 to 2031’, Cat. no. 3236.0., ABS, Australian Government.
ABS (2015) ‘Household and Family Projections, Australia, 2011 to 2036‘, Cat. no. 3236.0., ABS, Australian Government.
ABS (2019) ‘Household and Family Projections, Australia, 2016 to 2041’, Cat. no. 3236.0., ABS, Australian Government.
Dockery A, Ong R, Whelan S and Wood G (2008) ‘The relationship between public housing wait lists, public housing tenure and labour market outcomes’, AHURI Research Report No. 9., Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), Melbourne.
Muir K, Powell A, Flanagan K, Stone W, Tually S, Faulkner D, Hartley C and Pawson H (2020)’ “’A pathway to where?’ Inquiry into understanding and reimagining social housing pathways”, AHURI Final Report No. 332, AHURI, Melbourne.