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How housing quality is measured worldwide

This chapter describes various approaches to measuring housing quality:

Differences between self-reporting and expert assessment

International measurement on housing quality is collected either through self-reporting of housing problems and/or expert assessment of housing condition, usually obtained through household surveys. Some surveys include physical measurement of housing quality combined with self-reporting (eg Scotland and the United States), while others depend on self-reported housing quality.

Evidence from self-reporting of housing problems shows that tenants and home owners tend to underestimate or be unaware of housing problems. So, some physical measurement would be beneficial. For example, in New Zealand’s 2010 House Condition Survey (Buckett, Jones, & Marston, 2012), both renters and owners thought the condition of their house significantly better than BRANZ assessors. Eighty percent of the occupiers of rental properties considered their property in good condition, but a BRANZ assessment considered only 22 percent in good condition.

However, physical inspection of housing is costly. Some surveys focus exclusively on housing quality (such as the Scottish Housing Condition Survey) but a more general approach is to include some housing quality questions as a supplement to an existing survey. The United Kingdom and the United States have detailed housing surveys, which combine an assessment of housing quality with information about the inhabitants of the housing.

Table 1 presents brief examples of different housing quality collection approaches.

See appendix 2, About international housing surveys.

Expert assessment of housing condition, combined with survey data such as information about the inhabitants and self-assessed housing quality, gives the most comprehensive information on housing quality.

Table 1

International approaches to measuring housing quality
Housing quality indicators Indicators measured using a self-reported housing condition survey Indicators measured using a comprehensive housing condition assessment combined with a household survey
Assessment of physical structure / defects of the dwelling Australia
European Union
England and Wales, Scotland
United States
Need for repairs Australia
Canada
England and Wales, Scotland
United States
Dampness New Zealand England and Wales, Scotland
United States
Lighting European Union England and Wales, Scotland
United States
Access to basic facilities Australia (indigenous households only)
Some OECD countries
England and Wales, Scotland
United States
Number of rooms/bedrooms per person OECD
New Zealand (NZGSS has number of bedrooms)
 ..
Indoor air quality .. England and Wales, Scotland
United States
Energy efficiency – warmth / heating insulation Australia
New Zealand
England and Wales, Scotland
United States
Quality of neighbourhood European Union
New Zealand
England and Wales, Scotland
United States
Indoor air quality .. England and Wales, Scotland
United States
Characteristics of dwelling inhabitants Australia
European Union
New Zealand
England and Wales, Scotland
United States
Symbol: .. not applicable

Countries with self-reported housing quality

The examples included here come from the European Union and Australia, and provide information about basic amenities and the quality of key components of housing.

European Union

European Union member states use self-reported housing condition surveys to measure housing quality. These surveys ask respondents about four aspects of housing quality:

  • leaking roof, damp walls/floors/foundation, or rot in window frames
  • accommodation being too dark
  • no bath/shower available
  • no indoor flushing toilet available for the sole use of the household.

Australia

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) collects housing quality data from many sources. The Survey of Income and Housing (ABS, nd) has a housing quality component, which is administered every six years. The last survey that included housing condition was in 2007/8 (ABS, 2009).) The housing quality component asks the respondent whether their house needs repairs or maintenance, whether there are major structural problems, and if there are smoke alarms.

See Australian Housing and Income Survey in appendix 2 for a list of housing quality questions from the 2007/8 survey.

In addition to housing quality, the ABS conducted a Household Energy Consumption Survey in 2012 (ABS, 2013), which includes some information about insulation.

Examples of expert assessment of housing condition combined with survey data

England

In April 2008, the English House Condition Survey integrated with the Survey of English Housing to form the English Housing Survey (EHS). The EHS collects information on tenure and tenure preferences (whether people aspire to rent or own, for example), affordability, crowding, and housing condition.

In 2010, a sample of 16,670 occupied or vacant dwellings was inspected. In 16,047 cases an interview with the household was also secured. The questionnaire used self-reported views of neighbourhood quality and functioning, combined with the expert physical inspection of housing quality, including: condition of internal and external structures, presence of dampness and/or mould, energy efficiency, and type and age of the dwelling.

How the survey is carried out is of interest for potential application in New Zealand. The survey was carried out as a partnership between different agencies. The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) managed the EHS on behalf of the Department of Communities and Local Government, and undertook the household interviews and data validation, and derived analytical measures. ONS also had responsibility for the sampling and weighting of the datasets. A private company, Miller Mitchell Burley Lane, undertook the visual inspection of the properties working in partnership with ONS. The Building Research Establishment helped develop the physical survey questionnaire and surveyor training materials.

See English Housing Survey in appendix 2, for more information about the survey questions and other housing surveys. 

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