Almost 190,000 households are stuck on social housing wait lists amid Australia’s housing crisis, according to Guardian Australia analysis of state and territory data.

In December 2023, there were around 60,000 applications for social housing in Victoria and 57,000 in New South Wales. Queensland had more than 22,000 applications and Western Australia more than 19,000. Smaller states and territories including the Northern Territory, Tasmania and the ACT had more than 5,000, 4,000 and 3,000 applications respectively. In March 2024, South Australia had more than 15,000 social housing applications.

Some states have seen declines in the number of outstanding social housing applications over the past couple of years. But at a national level, applications have increased since June 2022, when there were almost 175,000 applications, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Social housing in Australia is made up of public housing managed by state and territory governments, and community housing managed by non-profits.

Federal Labor pledged to construct 20,000 social housing dwellings within five years after taking government. Many state and territory governments also have their own targets for building or buying new social housing stock.

In a recent Guardian Essential poll, fewer than one in 10 respondents said the housing system was “largely working well”. The most popular housing policy among respondents canvassed was providing “additional support to not-for-profit community housing providers to deliver social housing”.

Guardian Australia estimated the current wait list at almost 190,000 by combining publicly available data from state and territory governments, and requesting data from those states don’t publish. The exact number is hard to pin down due to differing reporting periods, definitions and systems across the country.

There are many reasons why the number of people on waiting lists can fluctuate, including changing eligibility criteria and government policies and priorities. The waiting lists – or “housing registers” as some states prefer to call them – are not a queue. Rather, applicants with greater need may receive housing before those who applied earlier.

Notes and methods:

  • For comparability, data from December 2023 was used for all states except SA.

  • Some states report all applications on their housing registers, while others only report approved applications.

  • The registers can also include people who have a “temporary urgent need”, such as in the wake of the natural disaster.

  • Guardian Australia has included all applicants on the registers, regardless of priority.

  • Social housing applicants may be on more than one waiting list, and so combined figures may overestimate the total number of households on social housing waitlists.

The Guardian