AHURI BRIEF

Census data shows falling proportion of households in social housing

ABS data shows lowest proportion of social housing in 35 years

Last updated 16 Aug 2017

The 2016 Census shows a continuing fall in the proportion of Australian households who live in social housing, from a high point of over 7 per cent of all households in 1991 to 4.2 per cent in 2016 (which is the lowest proportion of households in social housing during the last 35 years).

Social housing is made up of state/territory owned and managed public housing and housing managed (and often owned) by not-for-profit community housing providers. To be eligible for any form of social housing, tenants must fit certain criteria such as be on a very low income and have very low economic assets.

The large increase in public housing recorded in the 1991 Census was the result of an objective of the Hawke Government (taken to the 1983 election) to increase the proportion of public housing, although no time period was nominated for this objective. As a consequence, funding for public housing was substantial in the first years of the 1984–89 Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement (CSHA).

Figure 1. Social housing (public and community housing) as a proportion of all households in Australia

Source: AHURI Final Report No. 231 plus ABS, Census population and housing 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016.
Census year Public housing Community housing Social housing
(Column 2+3)
All
households
Public rental % all Social housing % all

1981

228,938

N/A

228,938

4,668,909

4.9%

4.9%

1986

278,637

N/A

278,637

5,187,423

5.4%

5.4%

1991

395,049

N/A

395,049

5,586,824

7.1%

7.1%

1996

326,898

N/A

326,898

6,281,817

5.2%

5.2%

2001

317,171

44,311

361,482

7,072,202

4.5%

5.1%

2006

304,431

50,165

354,596

7,144,096

4.3%

5.0%

2011

314,690

51,373

366,063

7,760,322

4.1%

4.8%

2016

299,949

51,068

351,017

8,286,077

3.6%

4.2%

Source: AHURI Final Report No. 231 plus ABS, Census population and housing 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016.

As a note, the ABS Census numbers are different to public and community housing numbers issued by the Productivity Commission as the ABS draws its numbers from the self-reported answers by householders. Nevertheless, the ABS methodology is consistent across time and reveals the extent of changes in tenure.