Housing satisfies the essential needs of people for shelter, security and privacy. Shelter is recognised throughout the world as a basic human right. The adequacy or otherwise of housing is an important component of individual wellbeing. Housing also has great significance in the national economy, with its influence on investment levels, interest rates, building activity and employment.
The ways in which Australian families and individuals are housed reflect social, political and economic factors over the last century. For example, public health concerns towards the end of the 19th century resulted in legislation in the states which gave local government the authority to make building regulations and inspect dwellings, a responsibility they have to this day. Also at that time, demand for housing exceeded supply, rents were high, and overcrowding and slum conditions continued to be a problem into the 20th century. This led to states introducing further legislation for the provision of public rental housing for low income earners. In the 1920s, the Commonwealth Government moved to provide financial assistance for access to home ownership for moderate and low income groups, and a number of policy initiatives over recent decades have focused on this goal. Governments have continued to actively promote home ownership as part of an overall policy directed at achieving people's self-reliance in housing, and a quality of housing adequate for their needs.
The predominance of separate, free-standing houses situated on 'quarter-acre blocks' is a feature of Australian urban development. More recently, governments have moved to promote higher housing density, to provide greater choice of housing types and to make better use of existing infrastructure. This has resulted in changes to urban planning and building regulation. There have been some changes in the nature of housing, and efficiencies in the use of land and infrastructure. However, even within this new framework, green field developments and free-standing houses still predominate.
This chapter provides information on the types of dwellings Australians live in and their tenure arrangements, the affordability of housing, and the government assistance provided through housing and income support programs. It is based largely on information from the 2002-03 Survey of Income and Housing conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It also draws on information about house prices, finance commitments for owner occupation, and administrative data relating to public housing and rent assistance. Care should be taken when comparing statistics from different sources because of differences in the timing, conceptual bases and scope of individual statistical sources.