How many in a crowd? Assessing overcrowding measures in Australian housing

This Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) study assesses the measurement of overcrowding in Australia and explores the relationships between various household density measures and the wellbeing of occupants.

How overcrowding is defined and measured has important implications for funding requirements, the appropriate mix of housing stock given household structures and rules for allocating families to public and community housing.

Key Points

  • Given the importance of housing in shaping life’s outcomes and the significant public investment in housing assistance, it is critical that policy is guided by measures of overcrowding that meaningfully reflect housing adequacy.
  • Very few Australians live in housing that could be considered overcrowded. The norm is for households to have spare bedrooms. Over 90 per cent of the population live in homes with at least one bedroom per couple or unpartnered occupant.
  • Despite this, there are groups within our society prone to experiencing overcrowding, leading to a range of substantial adverse consequences. These include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) backgrounds, of lower socio-economic backgrounds and women escaping domestic violence situations, among others.
  • The relationship between household occupant density and occupant wellbeing is highly nuanced. There is both a conceptual and empirical disconnect between current measures of overcrowding and actual experiences of excessive density.
  • For targeted groups, overcrowding needs to be reframed away from a density measure to instead capture the subjective reaction to living in a crowded environment, as well as indicators of household functioning as a key moderator.

The How many in a crowd? Assessing overcrowding measures in Australian housing can be found here.