Notes on the data: Aboriginal housing

Aboriginal persons living in crowded dwellings; Aboriginal persons living in 'severely' crowded dwellings 2016


Policy context: For Australian agencies such as State/Territory housing authorities and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), household crowding is defined according to the Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS), a widely-used guideline for assessing whether a household has a sufficient number of bedrooms for household members The CNOS is based on measuring the number of people per bedroom in each dwelling in the context of the ‘norms’ of sleeping and living associated with the culture of a western nuclear family [1].

The concept of crowding is based on comparing the number of bedrooms in a dwelling with a series of household demographics that include the number of usual residents, their relationships, age and sex.

A 'severely' crowded dwelling requires four or more extra bedrooms to adequately accommodate its usual residents according to the principles of the CNOS. The ABS categorises people living in ‘severely’ crowded dwellings in one of six ABS homeless groups [2]. People living in severe overcrowding are considered to lack control of and access to space for social relations (one of the key elements of the ABS definition of homelessness) and are considered not to have accommodation alternatives when remaining in such extreme living arrangements [3].

The health and safety of occupants may not be compromised in instances of slight overcrowding or short-term overcrowding; severe and sustained overcrowding can however put their health and safety at risk [3].

People living in 'severely' crowded dwellings have been the largest homeless group in each of the last four Censuses. Although the number of people in this group fell slightly between 2001 and 2006, increases of 31% and 23% of people living in ‘severely’ crowded dwellings in 2011 and 2016, respectively accounted for the majority of the rise in homelessness in these periods. Moreover, New South Wales contributed to most of the increase in 2016 with an 74% increase to 16,821 persons from 9,655 persons in 2011 [3].

Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples made up 3% of the Australian population in 2016, they accounted for one-fifth (20%) of all persons who were homeless on Census night in 2016. Of all Indigenous persons, who were homeless, 70 % were living in 'severely' crowded dwellings compared to 42% of non-Indigenous homeless persons [4].

However, it must be noted that ABS's definition of homelessness has been developed for application to the general population in Australia. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are over-represented when measuring homelessness, their perceptions of homelessness are not adequately captured by the ABS’s definition. This partly contributes to underenumeration of the Indigenous population (17.5%) in the 2016 Census, and in turn impacts the underestimations of homelessness among this population group [5].


  1. Australian Housing and Urban Research Initiative (AHURI). When is a dwelling considered 'crowded' and 'severely crowded', AHURI Brief, 2019 (May). URL:
  2. , accessed 8 August 2019.
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Information Paper - Methodology for Estimating Homelessness from the Census of Population and Housing 2012. Cat no. 2049.0.55.001 URL:
  4. , accessed 8 August 2019.
  5. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness, 2016. Cat no. 2049.0. URL:!OpenDocument
  6. , accessed 8 August 2019.
  7. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Key Findings, Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness, 2016. Cat no. 2049.0. URL:
  8. , accessed 27 August 2019.
  9. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Homelesses, Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness, 2016. Cat no. 2049.0. URL:
  10. , accessed 27 August 2019.

Notes: The Canadian National Occupancy Standard assesses the bedroom requirements of a household, accounting for both household size and composition, specifying that:

  • there should be no more than two persons per bedroom
  • children less than five years of age of different sexes may reasonably share a bedroom
  • children less than 18 years of age and of the same sex may reasonably share a bedroom
  • single household members 18 years and over should have a separate bedroom, as should parents or couples and
  • a lone person household may reasonably occupy a bed-sitter.

'Severely' crowded dwellings are those assessed as needing four or more additional bedrooms to accommodate all persons currently living in the household, according to the Canadian National Occupancy Standard (see Persons living in crowded dwellings above).

Private dwelling: A private dwelling can be a house, flat or even a room. It can also be a caravan, houseboat, tent, or a house attached to an office, or rooms above a shop.


Geography: Data available by Indigenous Area, Primary Health Networks, Indigenous Quintiles and Indigenous Remoteness Areas


Numerator: Aboriginal persons in private dwellings requiring extra bedrooms


Denominator: Total Aboriginal persons living in private dwellings


Detail of analysis: Per cent


Source: Compiled by PHIDU based on the ABS Census of Population and Housing, August 2016


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