June 1, 2016

Measuring Overcrowding — USA and Canada

As part of a CMHC comparative research project on how international housing indicators could be applied to Canada we took a look at how overcrowding is measured in the USA compared to Canada.

Overcrowding in the USA is estimated on the basis of Persons Per Room (PPR). A house is considered crowded if there are more than one person per room and severely overcrowded if there are more than 1.5 persons per room.

In Canada, overcrowding is estimated on the basis of the National Occupancy Standard. It takes into account ages and genders of, and relationships between, household members to determine the required number of bedrooms for a household and compares this with the number of bedrooms in the dwelling.

CMHC applied the US and Canadian standards to estimate overcrowding to Canada’s population and determined the following:

  • 559,980 overcrowded households were not captured by the US PPR method of measuring.
  • 223,810 were captured by both standards.
  • 35,610 additional households were captured by the US PPR method of measuring.

There is a clear difference between the US and Canadian indicated results that is due to the Persons Per Room measurement not taking into account the composition of the household (ages, genders, relationships) or considering the different types of rooms.  Under the PPR standard, all available rooms in a house are considered, rather than the number of available bedrooms. The PPR standard does not reflect Canadian social norms of what may typically be considered crowded accommodation.

Figure 1: The Persons Per Room standard would capture fewer, and some different, households than the Canadian Suitability Standard

Overcrowded households below the CSS and PPR standards, respectively, Canada, 2011


Undercaptured: captured by the CSS but not the PPR
Overcaptured: captured by the PPR but not the CSS

Source: CMHC (Census- and NHS-based housing indicators and data)

Text version
Undercaptured 559,980
Captured by both standards 233,810
Overcaptured 35,610

Download the full International Housing Indicators report (PDF)

Read a summary of this research report

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