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The purpose of this glossary is to define terms commonly used in our research as well as in housing, homelessness, urban and cities policy. It is a useful reference to help you familiarise you with housing-specific terms used across our publications and on our website.

This glossary is limited to terms and acronyms most used by Australian academics and governments.

If there is a term you would like to see included in the AHURI Glossary, please contact us at




Definitions of homelessness are culturally and historically contingent and there is no universally agreed definition. Most definitions recognise homelessness as a spectrum that spans rough sleeping, various forms of temporary accommodation and inappropriate housing.

For example, the cultural definition of homelessness is based on cultural expectations of the degree to which housing needs are met within conventional expectations or community standards. In Australia this means having at a minimum, one room to sleep in, one room to live in, one’s own bathroom and kitchen and security of tenure.

This definition describes three types of homelessness:

  • Primary homelessness: rough sleeping
  • Secondary homelessness: temporary accommodation (includes people moving frequently from one form of temporary accommodation to another, including emergency housing, boarding houses or staying with family or friends, couch surfing)
  • Tertiary homelessness: inappropriate housing (refers to people staying for longer than 13 weeks in rooming houses or equivalent tertiary accommodation).

The most widely accepted definition of homelessness in Australia is provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and is used to develop official homelessness statistics and official national homelessness estimates.

The ABS considers a person to be homeless if their current living arrangement has one or more of the following characteristics:

  • is in a dwelling that is inadequate
  • has no tenure, or their initial tenure is short and not extendable
  • does not allow them to have control of and access to space for social relations; provide a sense of security, stability, privacy or safety; or provide the ability to control living space.

This includes people in severely overcrowded dwellings who lack control of or access to space for social relations.


One or more persons, at least one of whom is at least 15 years of age, usually resident in the same private dwelling. The people in a household may or may not be related. Household composition (i.e. the individuals who make up the household) can change over time as households form (e.g. to create new households or to include new individuals) or dissolve (such as when individuals separate to form new households, die, enter age care or are incarcerated in prison).

Household Composition

Household formation and dissolution

Housing affordability

A general term, used in reference to the whole housing system, expressing the relationship between housing costs (prices, mortgage payments or rents) and household incomes.

Housing affordability stress

A concept used to measure the impacts of poor housing affordability. Housing stress is said to occur if an unreasonable proportion of household income is required to pay housing costs. There are a range of approaches to defining and measuring housing stress, with the most common in Australia being the ‘30/40’ affordability rule. This ‘rule of thumb’ defines housing stress as occurring when households in the lowest 40 per cent of the income distribution pay more than 30 per cent of income on housing costs, adjusted for household size.

Housing cooperative

A housing cooperative is a community of people who voluntarily work together to meet their common need for affordable, sustainable housing. Members actively participate in the management of the housing co-operative, including attending meetings and participating in the management and everyday running of the co-operative. Housing cooperatives can operate under a number of different legal structures, including forms of leasing and ownership.

Housing density

Housing density refers to the number of dwellings on an area of land. Density is typically referred to as high-density (characterised as multi-storey apartment buildings), medium-density (characterised as attached townhouses and three or four storey low level apartment buildings), and low density (characterised as stand alone, detached housing).

Housing First

Service response model to homelessness that provides people experiencing homelessness with immediate access to permanent housing integrated with intensive support services. The Housing First model is based on the conviction that having adequate housing is a human right (Tsemberis 1999) and an important precondition to be able to address other issues with which a person may be struggling.

Housing pathway

The experiences and mobility of households and residents within the housing system is referred to as ‘housing pathways’. Housing pathways refer to: ‘patterns of interaction (practices) concerning house and home, over time and space … The housing pathway of a household is the continually changing set of relationships and interactions, which it experiences over time in its consumption of housing’.

Housing supply

The process whereby new housing is built to fulfil the demand for new dwellings from buyers.

Housing/residential mobility

The movement of households between dwellings and areas is referred to as housing or residential mobility. The study of housing/residential mobility is concerned with understanding what motivates households to move, the distance they move and whether they choose or are compelled to move and the socio-economic consequences of moving.

Hybrid tenures

Forms of housing tenure that lie between the standard tenures of social rental, private rental and home ownership (e.g. shared equity).


Inclusionary zoning

A land use planning intervention by government designed to deliver affordable housing. It either mandates or creates incentives for a residential development to provide a specified proportion or number of affordable housing dwellings.

Income quintiles

A comparison measurement approach whereby a household’s income is ranked against the distribution of all household income in Australia. The approach divides Australia’s households (i.e. not population) into five equal groups or quintiles, each comprising 20 per cent of the number of all households, based on their income. The income quintiles assessment leads to the recognition of the following categories:

  • very low income households – 0% to 20% of income earners
  • low income households – 20% to 40% of income earners
  • moderate income households – 40% to 60% of income earners
  • high income households – 60% to 80% of income earners
  • very high income households – highest 20% of income earners.

Income support

A regular payment from government that helps individuals and households with living costs. Income support includes the Age Pension, Austudy, Carer Payment, Disability Support Pension, JobSeeker Payment, Parenting Payment, Special Benefit, Farm Household Allowance, Youth Allowance, Partner Allowance, Widow Allowance, Service Pension and Veteran Payment

Income unit

Used for computed Commonwealth Rent Assistance, an income unit is one person or a group of related persons within a household, whose command over income is shared, or any person living in a non-private dwelling who is in receipt of personal income.

Indirect housing assistance

Government policies and programs that, whilst not directly focussed on housing supply or demand, do impact on the housing system (e.g. tax policies that exempt housing from certain taxes, such as home ownership is exempted from the capital gains tax).

Also see direct housing assistance


An urban planning term describing the development of higher-density housing within established urban areas. Typically, infill involves increasing residential densities in previously occupied with low- to medium-density housing or vacant land. In Australia, infill targets have been set for housing in all capital cities in an attempt to direct population and investment closer to employment and commercial centres and transport nodes.