Crowding, housing and health: An exploratory study of Australian cities



Publication Details

Herath, S. & Bentley, R. (2018). Crowding, housing and health: An exploratory study of Australian cities. State of Australian Cities National Conference 2017, Adelaide: SOAC Research Network (pp. 1-16). Australia: Analysis and Policy Observatory.

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State of Australian Cities National Conference 2017


Australian capital cities are among the most expensive in the world, and the persistent shortage of affordable housing is a significant driver of housing overcrowding, particularly in the private rental sector. Health and wellbeing issues arise from closer contact between household members including increased spread of communicable infections, sleep disruption, lack of privacy and an inability to care adequately for sick household members. The aim of this paper is to examine the extent and the spatial distribution of overcrowding in the five largest cities in Australia - Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, and consider its distribution in relation to socioeconomic disadvantage. The analysis begins by critically reviewing available standards for quantifying overcrowding - e.g. World Health Organisation, Eurostat, Canadian National Occupancy Standard for Housing Appropriateness and Proxy Occupancy Standards. Drawing from the above frameworks, the investigation extends to compute indicators of crowding using 2011 Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data. The chosen unit of analysis (i.e. SA2) enables local level geographies of overcrowding to be mapped within and across cities. We then compare incidence of overcrowding and the distribution of socio-economic disadvantage measured by Socio-Economic Index for Areas (SEIFA) - the Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage (IRSD). Our findings indicate Sydney and Melbourne have the highest incidence of crowding in housing amongst the largest five cities, accounting to 26% and 17% of residents living in such dwellings respectively. We also find a strong overlap of geographies of overcrowding and socioeconomic disadvantage and, contrary to the conventional wisdom, overcrowding seems to be most evident in middle-city areas in all the cities investigated except for Adelaide. The geographical analysis thus generates policy-relevant spatial knowledge about the locations and extent of crowding in specific Australian cities.

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