Housing terms

Disability Royal Commission hearings sometimes use terms that most Australians aren’t very familiar with. We’re keeping a list of these and trying to explain them in plain language. Please feel free to contact us if you have suggestions for words that should be included.

Click here for general DRC terms.


Housing-related terms

Social housing: Social housing is affordable rental housing for people on low incomes. This includes public housing, which is specifically run by the State Government, while community housing is run by non-government organisations.

Congregate living (some people also call this congregate care or just congregation): Anywhere disability support is provided to many people living together, often without choosing who they live with. This includes institutions, group homes and some other kinds of housing.

Institution: This word has a few different meanings. In this context, it means a place where many people live together and there are disability and medical support services. People might have their own bedroom or a shared room, but bathrooms are usually shared and often only staff have access to the kitchen. It’s a little bit like permanently living in a hospital. Usually people who end up in an institution have no other choice. They might legally have to stay there or they may be told that there is no other place they can access the support and medical care they need.

Institutionalisation: A word for something that happens mentally and emotionally to a person who lives in an institution for a long time and gets used to what it’s like there. For example, they can lose independence and life skills, become traumatised and afraid of many things, and not have some life experience that they might need outside the institution. This makes leaving an institution difficult for many people through no fault of their own. People need extra support at first when they start to live outside an institution after being there for a long time. 

Sometimes people also use the word institutionalisation to describe a person being made to live in an institution in the first place, or to describe another situation becoming increasingly similar to an institution. Some people use the word de-institutionalisation to describe a person leaving an institution. Other people say it when they’re talking about a bigger change, like shutting down all the institutions in a particular area and moving everyone into different housing.

Group home: A place where up to 8 people with disability live together and access support services. They can be run by the government or by a private company, either for profit or not-for-profit. Typically there is at least one disability support worker there at all times. This is one kind of congregation, and can lead to segregation and institutionalisation (see above).  

Assisted boarding house: A boarding house is a place where people can rent rooms either for just a few nights or for longer. People who live there generally have their own small living space but share things like kitchens, bathrooms and laundry with other people. An assisted boarding house also includes disability support services for people who live there, and people usually live there for a long time. They are run by private companies.

Community Visitor (CV): A volunteer who does surprise inspections of places like group homes and institutions, including mental health facilities. They visit and talk to people with disability who live in a group home to find out how they are being treated and what problems the group home might have. They also talk to staff and ask to see documents like reports about incidents where someone got hurt. Find out more from the Victorian Public Advocate website. Other states have similar programs run by their own state government departments like the Queensland Public Guardian or the NSW Ageing and Disability Commission.