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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1994  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/05/1994   
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Contents >> Housing >> Housing Assistance: Public tenants

Housing Assistance: Public tenants

In 1991, 22% of households in rental accommodation rented from a public housing authority. The proportions in Darwin, Adelaide, Hobart and Canberra were considerably higher.

In Australia, each State and Territory has its own public housing agency. These differ in administrative structure but all have a similar charter: to provide housing that is adequate and affordable, particularly to individuals and families with low income. In general, public housing authorities set the minimum and maximum level of rent for a tenant at 20% and 25%, respectively, of their income1.

The state and Territory housing agencies receive commonwealth funding through the Commonwealth- state Housing Agreement (CSHA). This agreement, made in 1945 between the Commonwealth Government and State and Territory governments, has been periodically renegotiated in detail but in substance fulfils the original aim of providing long-term housing assistance to Australian families and individuals. In 1991-92, under the CSHA, the Commonwealth government provided $1,058m to the States and Territories. This sum included $793m towards building or purchasing rental housing stock which, under the agreement, was matched by the States and Territories1.

The proportion of rental dwellings and the mix of public and private tenancies have changed little over the past decade. Between 1981 and 1991 the proportion of dwellings being rented increased from 27% to 28% and the proportion of rented dwellings which were rented from public housing authorities (PHAs) increased from 5% to 6%.

Public housing is a limited resource in great demand. In June 1992, the waiting list for rental accommodation stood at 216,000 applicants (see Housing - National summary tables). The majority (73%) of families and individuals who rent, do so from private landlords and generally have less security of tenure and greater housing costs than PHA tenants. In 1990, the average proportion of income spent on rent was 17% for income units who were PHA tenants and 21% for private renters. One parent income units who rented from a private landlord spent on average 33% of their income on rent (see Housing affordability). The Department of Social Security recognises the disadvantage incurred by clients who rent in the private market by providing rental assistance which subsidises rent payments over a threshold value dependent on family type.

NATURE OF OCCUPANCY(a)

1981
1991
Nature of occupancy
%
%

Owned
36.7
42.9
Being purchased
36.5
28.8
Rented
26.8
28.3
    Public housing authority
5.4
6.3
    Other government
1.5
1.4
    Private
20.0
20.7
Total
100.0
100.0
'000
'000
Total
4,668.9
5,764.7

(a) Occupied private dwellings excluding caravans etc. in caravan parks which were not identified as private dwellings in 1981.

Source: Census of Population and Housing


Life-cycle groups and income units

The life-cycle groups used in this review are derived from the family and household characteristics recorded in the 1991 Census of Population and Housing. These groups are based on census definitions of family and household type (see 1991 Census - Dictionary (2901.0)).

The concept of income units differs from that of families in that the focus is on grouping people into income/spending units. Income units can be considered to be analogous to family units with the distinction that non-dependant children and other adults living in the same household are treated as separate income units.


State differences
Consistent with its relative size, 21% of households renting PHA accommodation in 1991 lived in Sydney. However, since public housing activity varies between States, the distribution of PHA renters is not necessarily related to population size. Adelaide has a smaller population than Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth, but a higher share of PHA renters (13%) than those cities.

The smaller capital cities tended to have higher proportions of households who rented from PHAs. About 40% of households who rented their accommodation in Darwin and Adelaide were PHA tenants, while both in Hobart and Canberra the proportion was 37%. Melbourne had the lowest proportion of public tenancies among households who rented their accommodation (15%).

HOUSEHOLDS WHO RENT, 1991

Tenants

PHA
Private
PHA tenants as a % of all tenants(a)
Location
%
%
%

Capital cities
    Sydney
21.4
22.7
21.3
    Melbourne
11.0
17.9
15.3
    Brisbane
6.5
8.6
18.1
    Adelaide
12.6
5.3
41.1
    Perth
6.5
7.0
21.4
    Hobart
2.0
1.0
37.2
    Darwin
1.5
0.5
42.0
    Canberra
3.3
1.6
36.9
Elsewhere
35.5
35.5
21.5
Total
100.0
100.0
22.2

(a) All tenants includes other government tenants as well as public and private tenants.

Source: Census of Population and Housing


Families who rent
One parent families and retired people, whether couples or individuals, represented 30% and 19% respectively of households who rented from a PHA in 1991. These life-cycle groups represented 12% and 6% respectively of households who rented privately. People living alone and couples without children were more likely to be renting privately if they were young, and more likely to be renting from a PHA if they were old.

Although PHAs accommodate a large proportion of low income families, such as one parent families and retired people, private or other landlords provide the majority of rental accommodation in Australia. In 1991, of all households who rented their accommodation, 22% rented from a PHA, 73% from a private landlord and 5% rented from some other government body. The latter group includes families whose employment conditions included provision of rental accommodation e.g. members of the defence forces and country teachers. For some specific life-cycle groups who rented, the proportion in PHA accommodation was as high as 50%. One parent families with 3 or more dependent children and lone people aged 65 years or more both fell into this category.

HOUSEHOLD COMPOSITION, 1991

Tenants

PHA
Private
Life-cycle group
%
%

Couple with dependent children
24.2
24.7
    1-2 children
15.7
18.9
    3 or more children
8.4
5.8
Couple with non-dependant children
4.0
2.2
Couple without children(a)
11.6
18.7
    Under 35 years
1.6
11.5
    35-64 years
5.0
5.5
    65 years and over
5.0
1.6
Lone parent with dependent children
24.0
9.9
    1-2 children
18.9
8.5
    3 or more children
5.1
1.4
Lone parent with non-dependant children
5.8
2.0
Lone person
27.4
25.9
    Under 35 years
2.8
11.4
    35-64 years
10.5
10.5
    65 years and over
14.0
4.0
Other(b)
3.2
16.6
Total
100.0
100.0

(a) Age is the age of the reference person.
(b) Comprises other family households and group households.

Source: Census of Population and Housing

PUBLIC HOUSING AUTHORITY TENANTS AS A PERCENTAGE OF ALL TENANTS(a), 1991

    One parent with non-dependant children

    One parent with dependent children

    Couple with non-dependant children

    One person

    All households

    Couple with dependent children

    Couple without children
(a) Includes PHA, other government and private tenants.

Source: Census of Population and Housing


Income
Families and individuals who rent from a PHA generally have greater security of tenure than private renters. This, combined with the lower rents, makes public housing attractive to lower income recipients2. Although the income eligibility criteria for PHA rental accommodation preclude high income earners from qualifying for accommodation, once housed, the economic circumstances of tenants can improve without loss of tenancy, although rents may be increased (in general) to a maximum level of 25% of the tenant's income. However, during the financial year 1991-92, the great majority of PHA tenants were receiving rebates on their rent due to low income. On average, over 80% were paying less than the maximum rent to income rate1.

When PHA tenants are grouped on the basis of income quintiles, the characteristics of the income units in the quintile groups are clearly different. In 1990, income units in the 1st and 2nd quintiles of PHA tenants (accounting for the 40% who had the lowest incomes) were almost all (95%) dependent on government pensions or benefits for their income. In comparison, 54% of income units in the 1st and 2nd quintiles of private renters were dependent on government pensions and benefits. Further, 76% of PHA renters in the bottom two quintiles were one person income units and 21% were one parent income units. Among private renters in the bottom two quintiles, 66% were one person income units and 21% were couples.

Income units in the 4th and 5th quintiles of PHA renters (accounting for the 40% of tenants who had the highest incomes) were mainly wage and salary earners (69%) although 26% of income units in this group were dependent on government pensions or benefits for their principal source of income. Among equivalent private tenants, 92% had wages or salary as their principal source of income. 53% of income units in the top two quintiles of PHA renters were couples with dependent children. Among private tenants in the top two quintiles, about one-third were couples without dependent children, one-third were lone persons and one-third had dependent children.

SELECTED CHARACTERISTICS OF TENANTS BASED ON INCOME DISTRIBUTION, 1990

PHA tenants
Private tenants


1st & 2nd quintile
4th & 5th quintile
1st & 2nd quintile
4th & 5th quintile
Principal source of income and type of income unit
%
%
%
%

Principal source of income
    Wages or salary
3.1*
68.7
34.9
92.1
    Own business, trade or profession
* *
3.9
3.4
5.8
    Other private income
1.7*
1.4*
7.5
1.5
    Government pensions or benefits
95.2
26.0
54.2
0.6*
    Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
Type of income unit
    Couple
3.1*
73.3
21.2
62.3
      With dependent children
1.6*
52.9
10.9
29.5
      Without dependent children
1.5*
20.4
10.3
32.8
    One parent
21.4
16.5
12.6
2.1
    One person
75.5
10.3
66.2
35.7
    Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

Source: Survey of Income & Housing Costs and Amenities


Moving house
PHA tenants are generally considered to move less frequently than private tenants3. The 1991 Census found that 49% of PHA tenants and 79% of tenants renting from a private landlord had been living at their current address for less than 5 years. However, mobility is strongly related to age and life-cycle and the census findings reflect this. Certain groups are less likely to move than others, for example, couples and lone persons aged 65 years or over were less likely than other groups to have moved regardless of their landlord. Conversely, young couples without children and lone persons under 35 years of age were more likely to have moved in the past 5 years regardless of their landlord.

A proportion of PHA tenants who had a different address 5 years ago would have been new PHA tenants. The exact proportion cannot be determined but is likely to be greater for lone persons, lone parents and couples with dependent children since these groups represented 29%, 32% and 21% respectively of the applicants accommodated in PHA properties in 1991-921.

MOBILITY RATE(a) FOR TENANTS, 1991

Tenants

PHA
Private
Life-cycle group
%
%

Couple with dependent children
58.3
81.5
Couple with non-dependant children
21.0
63.9
Couple without children(b)
38.7
81.7
    Under 35 years
80.9
91.0
    35-64 years
34.2
71.4
    65 years and over
29.6
49.6
Lone parent with dependent children
61.9
83.6
Lone parent with non-dependant children
26.3
65.6
Lone person
40.8
69.0
    Under 35 years
72.0
84.4
    35-64 years
45.6
64.6
    65 years and over
31.0
36.9
Other(c)
56.1
86.3
Total
48.7
78.6

(a) Proportion of families who had a different address 5 years before.
(b) Age is the age of the reference person.
(c) Comprises other family households and group households.

Source: Census of Population and Housing


Endnotes
1 Housing Assistance Act 1989 Annual Report 1991-92 Department of Health, Housing, Local Government and Community Services.

2 Housing and Location Choice Survey, 1991 (Sydney and Melbourne) and Housing and Locational Preference Survey, 1991 (Adelaide and Canberra).

3 The National Housing Strategy (1992) Housing choice: reducing the barriers.



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