Social housing waitlist data – it’s here, but what does it tell us?

In late December, a package of new data from the NSW Department of Communities & Justice was gifted to the public domain, being social housing waitlist numbers and expected waitlist times for dwelling types to June 2022.

Social Housing applicants* on the NSW Housing Register at 30 June (2012 – 2021)

Source: NSW Government – DCJ Annual Statistical Report 2021-21 
*Where ‘applicants’ represent a household

Transparent, timely, and easily accessible data underpins so much of what we do in housing advocacy. Very rarely are we treated to all three pillars of data sharing by government agencies.

Nonetheless, here are some raw numbers and some case studies:

Of course, it is helpful to remember that these lists do not count every household who reasonably needs (and deserves) access to social housing.
Many people come and go from these reported waitlists and they do not always ‘go’ under favourable circumstances. Some households are rejected due to stringent eligibility criteria or  removed from the waitlist for not responding to DCJ correspondence in a ‘timely’ manner. Many simply and reasonably give up on being allocated a home and fall off the list.

These varying waithood experiences are documented in the paper (working title) ‘Waithood – the experience of waiting for social housing‘, published in 2022 by the UNSW City Futures Research Centre. Shelter NSW was pleased to support this research and commend it to you.
One of the many illuminating findings of the research was this:
Unpublished statistics for NSW suggest that in 2020-21, over 6,000 registrations were cancelled or otherwise ended during the year, in addition to the 12,000 ended via a social housing tenancy allocation.

As Prof. Hal Pawson rightly points out in his piece, Australia’s social housing system is critically stressed. Many eligible applicants simply give up, social housing has become a highly rationed resource nationally. The growth in social housing stock has not kept pace with population growth, let alone demonstrated need amongst low-income renters experiencing housing stress.

Only the most critical priority applicants can expect a social housing allocation within a year of applying.

Any close inspection of the NSW Government’s published social housing waiting list data begs more questions; many of which are very hard to answer given the lack of easy access to data available in a timely way.  At Shelter NSW we will continue to interrogate the data.