Thirty years of public housing supply and consumption: 1981– 2011

3 Nov 2014


This report provides data on some of the major changes in, and major issues around, the Australian public housing system over recent decades. The public housing sector has gone through major transformations in recent decades. Its original broad roles encompassing working family affordability, urban renewal, economic development, and decentralisation have narrowed in focus to serve as a housing safety net for high needs households. Changes in funding levels, ineligibility and allocations policy and asset management strategies have been major contributors to the recasting of the role of public housing, along with a paradigm shift in public policy from broad universalistic models of service delivery to highly targeted welfare models. These changes have major implications for what, where, and how much social housing is built and for the socio-economic attributes of tenants. The changes have, among other things, also put on the policy agenda issues of the potential role of public housing in accentuating employment problems for tenants, accentuating social disadvantage and the viability of the public housing system.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data, notably census data and the Survey of Income and Housing (SIH) can provide rich data that can help get a better understanding of what has happened to public housing and what might be the implications of changes in this tenure. This paper uses the release of the 201 1 ABS census results and other recent ABS data sets to address the research questions of:

  • What have been the major changes in public housing supply over the past 30 years (1981 – 2011), and how have these played out geographically?
  • What have been the major c hanges in the attributes of tenants (income, household type, employment status, age, etc.) over the past 30 years?
  • What does the census data tell us about the need for public and or social housing?

The 30-year period has been chosen as it marks the transit ion from one model of public housing, that is a more universalistic model, to a welfare delivery model. For much of the analysis census data was customised to include a number of demographic and dwelling characteristics by tenure for each of the three census years, for Australia and for the six state capitals.

The paper is about public housing only. Social housing, which sweeps up all forms of not-for-profit housing, both public and community managed, is not the focus of this study as community-managed stock in earlier census periods was so small as not to need an identifier in the Census and therefore was not separately recorded.

Publication Details
Published year only: 
Subject Areas
Geographic Coverage