Housing and Homelessness

Outcomes are associated with:




Indigenous Status

Mental Health




Housing and Homelessness

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Housing provides shelter, safety, security and privacy (AIHW, 2013) and is a significant predictor of a person’s health and wellbeing (Muir et al., 2015). For this reason, reliable and affordable access to housing is a key factor influencing positive social outcomes in Australia. 

Yet housing affordability is also a key issue in Australia at present, with the cost of both home ownership and rental properties having risen significantly. This has exposed many people to financial risk and, for some households, the cost of housing may decrease their ability to meet other living expenses (AIHW, 2017) and may mean that they spend such a significant proportion of their income on housing, over 30%, that they are classed as under ‘housing stress’ (AIHW, 2017). 

Housing Conditions

Good housing conditions are crucial for a range of positive outcomes, including health, employment and education. Although there is no standard set of measures, housing conditions typically refer to a combination of the characteristics of the dwelling and whether they meet the housing needs of the occupants; environmental factors related to the location of the dwelling; as well as tenure status (OECD, 2017). Three indicators of housing conditions can be considered to understand people’s housing situations: 1) type of tenure; 2) living space; and 3) satisfaction with dwelling and neighbourhood.

Type of tenure refers to whether an occupied, private dwelling is rented, owned – outright or with a mortgage – or is being occupied with some other arrangement (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013)[1]. As Figure 1 shows, home ownership is the most common form of tenure in Australia, although the proportion of dwellings that are owned has declined between 2001 (66.2%) and 2016 (62.0%). In parallel, the proportion of dwellings being rented privately increased from 2001 (19.6%) and 2016 (23.6%) 

The decline in home ownership and increase in private renting is not surprising given the current trends in the housing market. With house prices increasing (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015), many people are unable to afford to buy a dwelling and instead turn to renting. This is reinforced by increasing rent costs (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015) which make it even harder for people to save enough for a home deposit while still meeting current housing costs.

Housing Conditions

In spite of a decline in housing affordability, the proportion of dwellings being socially rented, defined by the ABS as being rented from a state or territory housing authority or from a housing co-operative, community, or church group, decreased slightly between 2001 and 2016, from 5.1% to 4.0% of all occupied private dwellings. This fall can possibly be explained by two factors: a decline in social housing stock and a greater reliance on housing assistance schemes, particularly the Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA). 

There is evidence that suggests there are strong economic benefits to providing social housing. 

Having adequate living space relative to the number of people in the dwelling is important for many reasons. Living in overcrowded dwellings can not only affect health and wellbeing, it can also affect family relationships and children’s education. In 2001 an estimated 1.7% of individuals were living in a dwelling with more than two people per bedroom. This proportion statistically significantly dropped to 1.4% in 2006 (p < 0.05). However, in 2011, the proportion of individuals living in a dwelling with more than two people per bedroom increased significantly to an estimate to 2.2% of the population (p < 0.01). This proportion statistically significantly decreased again to an estimated 1.4% of the population in 2013, as reported in ASP 1.0 (p < 0.01). There was no significant change in the estimated proportion of the population experiencing overcrowding between 2013 and the latest HILDA 2016 data.


Housing Affordability and Stress

Irrespective of tenure type, housing costs – that is rent or mortgage payments – often represent one of the biggest expenses for a household (Commonwealth of Australia, 2015). The median gross annual household income and median annual rent increased between 2006 and 2016. Interestingly, while median annual mortgage repayments increased from $15,600 in 2006 to $21,600 in 2011, between 2011 and 2016 median annual mortgage repayments were almost the same (in 2016, mortgage repayments were $21,060). 

The rate at which housing costs relative to income increased were quite different; while median annual rent more than doubled and mortgage payments doubled from 2001 to 2016, median household income only increased by 83%, eroding housing affordability.


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

At the 2016 Census, an estimated 116,000 persons (49.8 people per 10,000) were homeless, up 14 per cent from 2011. The rate of increase outpaced population growth (8.8 per cent). The majority of the increase was driven by a rise in the number of people living in ‘severely’ overcrowded dwellings, with this group representing 44% of the homeless in 2016 compared to 35% in 2006. There was, however, a decrease in the number of people living in improvised dwellings, tents, and sleeping out between 2006 and 2016, both as a proportion of people who were homeless, as well as a rate per 10,000 of the population (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012c).

Indigenous Australians were systematically over-represented across the years of SHS client data. They made up 19.4% of SHS clients identified as homeless in 2011-12, and their representation increased to 25.3% in 2016-17. This is worrying given Indigenous Australians only made up 2.8% of the population

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 years between 2011-12 and 2015-16 (11.1% in 2011-12, 21.2% in 2016-17). 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

We are:

·         Increasingly experiencing housing stress, as a result of housing costs (for renters and       owners) increasing at a higher rate than income

·         Experiencing a decrease in social housing stock

·         Increasingly reliant on housing assistance schemes for private rentals

Rates of homelessness are increasing, especially for some population groups including:

·         Indigenous people

·         Young people

We need to think more about:

·         Addressing housing affordability

·         Increasing the availability of social housing

·         Addressing systematic social disadvantage associated with ethnicity and particular age groups, as contributors to homelessness


  1. MUIR, K., MARJOLIN, A. & ADAMS, S. 2015. Eight Years on the Fringe: What has it meant to be severely or fully financially excluded in Australia? Sydney, Australia: Centre for Social Impact for the National Australia Bank.
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  9. HORNE R & ADAMSON D 2016. Our cities will stop working without a decent national housing policy. The Conversation.
  10. AUSTRALIAN BUREAU OF STATISTICS 2015b. Household Income and Wealth, Australia, 2013-14.
  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.