TOPICAL: ‘Overcrowding’ vs. ‘Crowding’

May 17th, 2024

‘Overcrowding’ or ‘Crowding’?

Perhaps there is only a small difference, but we think it is a distinct and important one.


HLP5: Reducing the negative impacts of crowding


We have talked on this topic many years ago, but we think it is worth discussing again.

In most housing and homelessness discussions, you will see the term ‘overcrowding’ is frequently used to describe too many people in a house. It is also a form of homelessness, being both the cause and consequence of the lack of suitable, appropriate housing. 81% of the NT’s homeless persons live in severely crowded housing. Aboriginal persons represent 88% of all homeless Territorians.

‘Overcrowding’ is a word that gets thrown around a lot, especially by the government. In fact, the recent $4 billion announcement in the NT entire aim is to cut ‘overcrowding’ by 50% over 10 years.


Our Position

Using the term ‘overcrowding’ normalises the existence of ‘crowding’ and suggests an acceptable level of crowding that is culturally and socially appropriate. The metric often used, the Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS) , is from a culture far away – is this suitable for a culture here in Australia?

All of Healthabitat’s published data and literature over the past 40 years has always used ‘crowding’, including in the 3 editions of the National Indigenous Housing Guide, which we co-authored.

Crowding is thought to be solved by building new houses, but this alone will never reduce crowding. More functional houses have the ability to reduce crowding. You can read more on this in this Big Issue and a previous news item.

HLP5: Reducing the Negative Impacts of crowding is a key resource for reducing the negative impacts of crowding.


How is it calculated?

There is no single standard measure for housing crowding.

Crowding is often calculated by simply dividing the number of bedrooms in the house, by the number of tenants.

Australian state housing agencies including the Northern Territory Government, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, use the Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS) to define crowding.

CNOS is a measure of the number of people per bedroom for each home, taking into account household size and composition. The bedroom requirements for CNOS are: no more than two people per bedroom;

  • children aged under 5 of the same or different genders can share a bedroom;
  • children aged over 5 and under 18 of the same gender can share a bedroom;
  • children aged over 5 of different genders should not share a bedroom;
  • couples and their children should not share a bedroom;
  • single household members aged over 18 should have their own bedroom.

Where these requirements are not met a home is considered overcrowded. A discussion of assessing overcrowding measures in Australian housing can be seen here.


10 years later, we ask the same question – Why are the current measures of crowding so blind to the reality of housing in Indigenous Australia?