Unmet Housing Needs

Indicators of numbers and characteristics of households who currently have unmet housing needs often provide a tangible starting point for local housing assessments. These needs are typically defined by shortfalls between the current housing situation and normative or legally defined standards. The English case study reported below uses the following headings for existing needs, in line with current planning guidance: (a) homelessness; (b) overcrowding; (c) concealed family households; and (d) households in unsuitable housing, related to health/disability or other social issues. In a major national study, Bramley et al. (2010, forthcoming) not only referred to these categories but also households sharing accommodation, households with affordability/payment problems and problems of poor physical housing conditions.

Such needs may be measured by waiting lists or housing registers, so long as these are open and well-administered, and people have some expectation of receiving help or potentially accessing housing to be motivated to register on a waiting list. In some locations, such as deep rural areas where there is little or no social housing, people may have no incentive to register even though their needs may be acute. Unmet needs can also be measured by surveys, although these may involve elements of subjective judgement. Even where a local authority cannot afford to carry out a reliable survey, national sample surveys may be used to generate estimates for higher-level regions or types of locality and to establish relationships with proxy variables which may be available in the Census or from administrative sources.

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