Australians look to share housing in hunt for housing relief

14 August 2023
Rise of online shared accommodation offers solutions
Low-income earners and others facing housing market barriers have long sought to save costs by sharing. According to a new study by researchers in the University of Sydney's School of Architecture, Design and Planning, shared housing has now become the default 'release valve' in the current housing market, in the absence of secure and affordable alternatives.

Key Findings:

·       4 percent  of  Sydney’s  households  are  classified  as  ‘group’  (unrelated  adults  living  together),  rising  to  10.8 percent  in  inner  Sydney.

·       A quarter  of  those  seeking  share  accommodation  indicated  a  rental  budget  of  up  to  $200  per  week.

·       Less  than  5 percent  of  share  vacancies  were  affordable  for  those  in  the  lowest  income  quintile, highlighting while sharing provides a lower cost option, it is not necessarily affordable for very low-income earners.

·       Data  suggests  a  tight  market  for  share  housing  vacancies,  mirroring  the  formal  sector.

·       While the share  housing  market  is  a  small  component  of  the  housing  system, it plays an important  role  in  supplying  accommodation  to  those  with  limited  budgets  and  options.

·       Online platforms have facilitated an informal housing share ‘market’, connecting potential sharers beyond their social networks or local area, and enabling rapid and informal increases in rental accommodation during  periods  of  high  demand. 

The study, ‘Discounted housing?  Understanding  shared  rental  markets  under  platformisation’, recently published in Housing Studies, was conducted by Professor Nicole Gurran, Dr Zahra Nasreen and Dr Pranita  Shrestha from the Sydney School  of  Architecture,  Design  and  Planning.

Whether a lifestyle choice or economic necessity, these informal sharing arrangements have attracted limited research and policy attention in part because they are difficult to detect or monitor.
Professor Nicole Gurran, Chair of Urbanism at the School of Architecture, Design and Planning

Using Sydney, one of the world’s most expensive housing markets, as the case study, the researchers examined how people are seeking share accommodation using listings via online platforms, such as, in the absence of a sufficient government response to an unmet housing need.

Living  in  a  share  house,  ‘flatting’,  or  bunking  with  ‘roomies’,  has long been regarded an  important  rite  of  passage  for  younger  adults  leaving  the  family  home.

However the rising  barriers  to  home ownership  and  a  shortage  of  affordable  rental  supply means  that  sharing  is  playing  an  increasingly  important  role.

“Within these contexts, new sharing practices and informal markets for shared accommodation are emerging, often via online platforms. Through these platforms we are seeing a sustained demand for share housing exceeding the advertised supply rates,” said Professor Gurran.

“In  fact,  this demand was despite a  period  of  low  population  growth  over  the  COVID-19  pandemic,  and  despite  wider  opportunities  to  relocate  to  potentially  lower  cost  housing  markets  while  working  remotely.

“This  sustained  demand  for  share  housing  implies  that  in  expensive  cities  such  as  Sydney,  affordability  pressures  are  sufficient  to  outweigh  preferences  for  privacy,  autonomy,  or  housing  amenity.

“As we know, there is a  chronic  shortage  of  affordable  housing, and the longer-term  implication  of  this  study  adds  to  the  extensive  volume  of  research  demonstrating  that  policy  intervention  is  needed  to  support  and  subsidise  affordable  rental  housing  in  high  demand  locations.

“It  is  also  important therefore,  to  ensure  that  future  residential  developments  are  able  to  accommodate  different  household  types.”

The study found demand  for  shared housing  followed  the  contours  of  Sydney’s  overall  housing  market,  gravitating  to  accessible  locations  near  central  employment  areas,  universities,  train  lines,  or  beachfront  areas  where amenities were easily accessible.

Map 1. Shared  housing  demand  by  suburbs

Source:  Flatmates  people’s  listings  Aug  2020

With vacancies  being  created  within  the  existing  housing  stock  - often  due to existing  tenure  arrangements - the  supply  of  share  accommodation  is  likely  to  increase  with  higher  housing  costs,  affordability  burdens,  and  reduced  vacancies  across  the  formal  rental  market.

Map 2. Shared  housing  supply  by  suburbs.

Source:  Flatmates  accommodation  listings  Aug  2020.

This informal market is becoming increasingly important as a default market to unmet housing needs. This is especially the case for vulnerable people in  the housing  system, those with income constraints, young people at transitional points in their life as well as  workers looking  for  accommodation  close to their job locations.

While these online platforms may support an increase in the housing market’s flexibility and responsiveness, the researchers say it also brings potential new risks for vulnerable  renters , such as those with special housing needs, which  therefore demands scrutiny  and  policy  intervention. 

In  this  way,  platform- enabled  sharing  might  be  regarded  as  an  informal  and  rapidly responsive  ‘release  valve’  for  the  overall  housing  system  during  periods  of  high  demand.  And it is  likely  that  the  role  of  platform- enabled  sharing  may  become  even  more  important  when  population  growth  resumes. 

“The  rise  of  online  accommodation   platforms   opens   new   opportunities   to   view   these   hidden   arrangements,    while    also    propelling    new    practices and policies.” Said Professor Gurran.

“The  policy  opportunity  is  to  repurpose  platform  technology  for  social  good  –  connecting  the  diverse groups of  people  now  unable  to  access  affordable  rental  housing  in  the  private  market  –  with  appropriate  and  secure  alternatives.”


Declaration: This  paper  is  part  of  an  Australian  Research  Council  (ARC)  funded  research  project  (project  ID:  DP200103202)  on  urban  planning  and  informal  housing  supply  in  Australian  cities.

Image Credit: Halfpoint -

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