Housing and Homelessness

Outcomes are associated with:




Indigenous Status

Mental Health




Housing and Homelessness

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Reliable and affordable access to housing is unsurprisingly one of the most significant factors influencing positive social outcomes in Australia1. However, the cost of both home ownership and rental has risen significantly and as a result, has exposed many people to housing stress and can decrease their ability to meet other living expenses2. 'Housing stress' can be defined as those who spend a significant portion of their income (more than 30%) on housing2.

In the most extreme cases, lack of access to reliable and affordable housing can lead to homelessness. This is linked to a range of indicators of disadvantage including poorer outcomes in relation to attending school and further education, finding and maintaining employment, and keeping up relationships with family and friends3, 4. Youth homelessness is a particular concern as it often affects young people’s current education and wellbeing outcomes3,5, and can limit their future rates of employment4

Physical and mental health problems are higher among people who are homeless than in the general population, with one study finding that up to 53% of young people who were homeless had experienced a mental health problem3

Housing Conditions

There is no standard measure for good housing conditions but three indicators can be considered to understand people's housing situations: type of tenure, living space, and satisfaction with dwelling and neighbourhood (which is covered in the Life Satisfaction domain).

Tenure type refers to whether a householder is a renter, owner, or mortgagee – or indeed any other arrangement that allows them to occupy the dwelling6. Home ownership is the most common form of tenure in Australia, although this dropped between 2001 and 2011 from 66.2% to 64.3%, according to census data from the ABS. As we would expect, during the same period, the proportion of households renting privately increased from 21.6% in 2001 to 23.5% in 2011. This is not surprising given the current trends in the housing market with increasing house prices and increasing numbers of people unable to afford to buy a dwelling. In fact, Australian housing is now among the most expensive in the world7.

Housing - tenure

Although there has been a decline in housing affordability, social renting (renting a home from a government housing authority or a community or co-operative housing group), decreased between 2001 and 2011 from 5.1% to 4.5% according to HILDA survey data. This can possibly be explained by the decrease in public housing stock, which fell by nearly 23,000 dwellings (6.5%) during the same period8, and a greater reliance on housing assistance schemes, which may signal greater reliance on the private rental market. This shift to housing assistance schemes may be a result of the long waiting lists for social housing, forcing disadvantaged people to compete in the private market and increasing their risk of becoming homeless9.

People aged 65 and over, people with higher levels of psychological distress, Indigenous Australians, and people living in areas of disadvantage were all statistically more likely to live in social housing. Of particular note, the average chance of an Indigenous Australian living in a socially-rented dwelling was more than five times higher compared to non-Indigenous people.

Adequate living space is another important factor as living in an overcrowded dwelling can affect health, wellbeing, family relationships, and children’s education. According to HILDA survey data, in 2001 an estimated 1.7% of individuals were living in a dwelling with more than two people per bedroom. By 2011, this figure had increased to 2.2% However, this dropped again to 1.4% in 2013. While the HILDA survey data do not provide direct figures of overcrowding, these calculated estimates give us an idea of how many people may be facing living conditions that are not appropriate to their housing needs.

Housing - people per bedroom

Housing Affordability and Stress

Housing costs of rent or mortgage payments are often one of the biggest household expenses10. Between 2001 and 2011, while median annual rent and mortgage payments doubled, median household income only increased by 60%, eroding housing affordability, and increasing the likelihood of housing stress.

As highlighted earlier, housing stress is defined as situation where a household spends more than 30% of its gross income on housing costs such as rent or mortgage payments. According to HILDA data, the proportion of households in housing stress significantly increased from 13.9% in 2001 to 19.7% in 2011, before decreasing to 16.7% in 2013.

Housing - housing stress

The chance of facing housing stress was significantly higher for people with high levels of psychological distress, people with a disability, and people living in areas of disadvantage.


Homelessness in Australia is defined as a situation where an individual does not have access to appropriate alternatives, and has a current living arrangement that: involves living in an inadequate dwelling; has no tenure security; and/or has no privacy11

On the 2011 Census night the ABS estimated that 105,237 people were homeless; approximately 49 persons for every 10,000 counted in the Census. This is an 8% increase on the homeless rate in 2006. The majority of the increase was driven by a rise in the number of people living in severely overcrowded dwellings, with this group representing 39% of the homeless in 2011.

In assessing homelessness in Australia, we supplemented our data with Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) Collection data. Started in 2011, it captures information about people accessing SHS and, where possible, classifies them as either homeless or at risk12.

In 2011-12, according to the SHS Collection data, 30% of SHS clients were identified as homeless compared to 34% in 2012-13. This increase can partly be explained by the reduction in the number of people who were not classified as either homeless or at risk in the earlier survey, but could also indicate an increasing homeless problem. In both years, about 60% of SHS clients identified as homeless were living in major cities, and 22% had been diagnosed with a mental health issue by a professional.

Indigenous Australians were over-represented in both years. While they made up 2.5% of the Australian population, they made up over 20% of SHS clients who identified as homeless.

The majority of SHS clients classified as homeless were aged 25 to 64, although there was an increase in the proportion of children aged 0 to 14 years. This increase is particularly concerning because we know that children’s health, educational advancement and overall wellbeing are deeply influenced by the quality of housing in which they live.

In Conclusion

The increase in housing costs - for both renters and mortgagees - unmatched by the increase in median household income, is leading to an increasing number of Australians suffering ‘housing stress’. At the same time we are experiencing a decline in housing affordability, we have also witnessed a significant decrease in housing stock, which fell by nearly 23,000 dwellings While this was partly offset by an increase in community housing stock over the same period, with additional growth expected, a gap still remains. This has led to a greater reliance on housing assistance schemes for private renting. When these factors are combined, it is unsurprising that the homeless rate had risen by around 8% at the time of the last Census in 2011. It is critical that Australians have access to affordable housing otherwise these numbers will only worsen over time.


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  11. AUSTRALIAN BUREAU OF STATISTICS 2012g. Information paper: Methodology for estimating homelessness from the census of population and housing.
  12. AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF HEALTH AND WELFARE 2013b. Specialist Homelessness Services 2012-13, cat. no. HOU 273. Canberra: AIHW.