1367.2 - State and Regional Indicators, Victoria, Jun 2009  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 10/08/2009   
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Distribution of Households with Surplus Bedrooms
Proximity to Public Transport


This feature article has been contributed by the Victorian Department of Transport. Views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Where quoted or used, they should be clearly attributed to the author.


Social trends such as the ageing of baby boomers, along with government policies, may encourage denser living and development in established suburbs in the medium to long-term.

In the short-term, increasing rents and low rental vacancy rates could also lead to a higher utilisation of the existing housing stock through a rise in demand for alternative rental arrangements such as boarding. Home owners may take advantage of this to supplement their income. If better use is made of the existing housing stock in areas in close proximity to public transport services, there is a risk of further upward demand for these services.

The Victorian Department of Transport (DoT) was therefore keen to know where dwellings with unused bedrooms predominantly exist in Melbourne in order to investigate the potential impact on public transport demand. The investigation used the Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS) applied to data from the Census of Population and Housing. The CNOS is more commonly used to determine housing utilisation.

Melbourne homes had over 1.3 million surplus bedrooms in 2006. A combination of larger dwellings and decreasing household size has contributed to an increase in the proportion of households with at least one surplus bedroom over the ten-year period 1996 to 2006.


Bedrooms available for Melbourne’s population

According to the 2006 Census (Expanded Community Profile), there were over 3.6 million bedrooms in residential dwellings across the Melbourne Statistical Division (SD). This was similar to the almost 3.6 million persons counted on Census night whose place of usual residence was in the Melbourne SD.

Whilst this suggests that on average every person has use of his/her own personal bedroom, the utilisation of bedrooms varies geographically and according to household arrangements. Couples generally share bedrooms, as do young children.

Consequently, there are a large number of households with bedrooms surplus to requirements. Based on the CNOS, which assesses the bedroom requirements of households based on the number of bedrooms in the dwelling and relationships within the household, in 2006 there were almost 900,000 of these households, and more than 1.3 million surplus bedrooms.

The Canadian National Occupancy Standard

The CNOS assesses the bedroom requirements of a household based on the following criteria:
  • There should be no more than two persons per bedroom;
  • Children less than 5 years of age of different sexes may reasonably share a bedroom;
  • Children 5 years of age or older of opposite sex should have separate bedrooms;
  • Children less than 18 years of age and of the same sex may reasonably share a bedroom; and
  • Single household members 18 years or over should have a separate bedroom, as should parents or couples.

Using this measure, households that require at least one additional bedroom are considered to experience some degree of overcrowding.

It is important to note that the CNOS is sensitive to both household size and composition. As households pass through different life-cycle stages, their minimum housing requirements and actual utilisation of housing changes.

While having spare bedrooms indicates a capacity to accommodate more people in reasonable comfort, it does not necessarily mean that dwellings are not being fully utilised. Households may put these 'spare' rooms to various uses (e.g. study, office, gymnasium, craft or hobby room, children's play room, guest bedroom or store room). Some may provide each child with a separate bedroom regardless of their age or sex.
Table 1.1

Households with insufficient, adequate and surplus bedroom accommodation(a)(b), Melbourne

No. of households
% of total households
No. of households
% of total households
change 1996-2006

At least one bedroom needed
50 231
43 088
-7 143
No extra bedrooms needed
284 113
271 448
-12 665
1 bedroom spare
412 788
455 690
36 902
2 or more bedrooms spare
313 492
441 200
127 708
Unable to determine/not stated
49 673
71 875
22 202
Total households
1 110 297
1 283 301
173 004

(a) Based on the Canadian National Occupancy Standard.
(b) Family, group and lone person households in occupied private dwellings.
Source: Census of Population and Housing, ABS data available on request

The data in Table 1.1 suggest that very little overcrowding existed in Melbourne households in 2006. Only 3.4% of households were identified as needing one or more extra bedrooms and therefore could be considered as experiencing some degree of overcrowding, in accordance with the CNOS.

However, almost 70% of the total 1,283,301 households counted in the Melbourne Statistical Division in August 2006, occupied dwellings which contained one or more surplus bedrooms. A further 21% of households were in dwellings assessed as both not possessing any surplus bedrooms nor needing any extra bedrooms. The households occupying dwellings with surplus bedrooms were split relatively evenly between dwellings containing only one surplus bedroom (455,690 households) and those containing two or more (441,200).

Social and economic trends

The number of spare bedrooms reflects a growing affluence in society coupled with a continuing trend to smaller household size.


The graph above shows that the average number of bedrooms per dwelling in Australia has increased from 2.88 in 1994-95 to 3.06 in 2005-06. It can be inferred that new houses and apartments built over this period contained more bedrooms per dwelling than the existing housing stock. In addition, renovations of existing dwellings may have involved the creation of extra rooms, some of which may be described as bedrooms but are surplus to requirements as determined by the CNOS and could be used for other purposes.


Households in dwellings not meeting the Canadian National Occupancy Standard

The map below shows the percentage of households by Census Collection District occupying dwellings which did not meet the CNOS, i.e. which did not have sufficient bedrooms for the occupants of the dwelling. In general, the highest incidences of insufficient bedrooms occurred in lower socio-economic areas in Melbourne’s west, north and outer south-east. Areas with relatively high rates of overcrowding appear to be located in closer proximity to the railway network.
Housing Occupancy Standard (a) - Households that require additional bedrooms

Households in dwellings with surplus bedrooms

The map below displays, by Statistical Local Area (SLA), the percentage point change between 1996 and 2006 in the proportion of households in dwellings with bedrooms surplus to requirements, based on the CNOS. It indicates that in most areas the proportion rose between 1996 and 2006, particularly in outer growth areas. The rise in the proportion of households occupying dwellings with surplus bedrooms was also relatively high in some inner metropolitan areas. In contrast, most housing developments in the central city area have been of a higher density which may mean higher rates of bedroom occupancy.
Housing Occupancy Standard (a) - All households (b) with one or more bedrooms spare

The maps below show the percentage of households in dwellings with surplus bedrooms by Census Collection District, for 1996 and 2006 separately.

Areas with the highest percentages of households occupying dwellings containing surplus bedrooms were found in Melbourne’s eastern and bayside suburbs, as well as in the outer and fringe suburbs (including growth areas). However, there were lower proportions in areas adjacent to many of the metropolitan railway lines. This is likely to be an indication of higher land values close to public transport, leading to smaller houses and/or higher housing density. In addition, houses built decades ago near railway lines tended to be smaller, with fewer bedrooms, than modern houses.

In rail corridors there remains a considerable proportion of houses with surplus bedrooms. If bedroom utilisation were to increase alongside railway networks over time, then this could present a potential upside risk to rail patronage in the future.

Such demographic groups as international students may help utilise surplus bedrooms, either as boarders with established families, or in group households shared with fellow students.
Housing Occupancy Standard (a) – All households (b) with one or more bedrooms spare

Housing Occupancy Standard (a) – All households (b) with one or more bedrooms spare

Housing and lifestyle choices

In determining where to live, Melbournians make many housing and lifestyle choices. Access to public transport and size of dwelling are two such choices. For many households, there may be a trade-off between alternatives for these two choices. Households may need to choose between a smaller dwelling in an area with good public transport access, or a larger dwelling in an area with poor public transport access.

Larger households will generally require a larger dwelling, and so may be more attracted to areas with poor public transport access, particularly if housing is relatively cheaper than other areas. The map below shows that larger households, as measured by average household size, occur more commonly in outer suburbs and in areas away from the railway network. However, the previous map showed that in some of these areas there are higher proportions of households with surplus bedrooms, so larger households, even with a larger dwelling, may still occupy a dwelling exceeding the requirements under the CNOS.
Housing Occupancy - Average household size


As Melbourne continues to grow, land adjacent to public transport may increase in value relative to land not serviced as well by public transport. Therefore, housing developments in these areas may be of a higher density. There may also be demand for occupancy of surplus bedrooms in existing housing stock near train stations. This presents a challenge for transport planners to provide sufficient capacity on the public transport system. There are also implications for environmentally sustainable housing and transport plans.