House crowding is a key indicator of a population’s socio-economic status, therefore the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) collects data regularly to identify crowding within Australian dwellings. The ABS adopts the Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS) to measure Housing Appropriateness, which is based on assumed cultural norms of what constitutes an appropriate use. We question the sufficiency of the CNOS to measure crowding among distinct cultural and ethnic groups living in Australia and offer a qualitative analysis of their lived experiences to explain the cultural values that underlie the experience of house crowding.
Using data from the 2016 Census of Population and Housing, this paper reflects the extent of house crowding among two cultural groups: Australia’s Indigenous population and Australia’s Lebanese population, who are both disadvantaged in socio- economic terms, but with differing cultural needs. However, quantitative methods alone, such as the CNOS measures drawing on statistics like Census data, do not illuminate the lived experience of crowding experienced by residents. The statistical analysis of house crowding will therefore be followed by a qualitative analysis using data collected through in-depth interviews with Lebanese householders in Sydney and Brisbane in 2018, and drawing on previous studies of Indigenous householders in Mt Isa and Brisbane in 2011 to reflect on the limitations of the CNOS method in detecting and describing the nature of house crowding within Indigenous and the Lebanese households in Australia. Our analysis challenges two embedded assumptions in the CNOS method: firstly, the assumed way in which people use their dwellings; and secondly, the assumption that bedroom sharing is key to the experience of house crowding, and thus is a singular factor in determining the Housing Appropriateness of Australian dwellings.