The housing system in England has experienced unprecedented stress and instability over the last decade, absorbing the impact of demographic pressure, a credit-fuelled boom, financial crisis, recession and policy change. A failing supply system and unexpected tenure changes now confront austerity and welfare cutback. How have these conditions impacted on traditional and contemporary indicators of housing need and what does this tell us about the drivers and dynamics of housing need outcomes? Drawing mainly on analysis of large-scale longitudinal and cross-sectional surveys, linked to subregional market data, this paper describes and models the changes in housing need outcomes over two decades. It explores the impact of demography, market affordability, labour markets, tenure change and supply on these outcomes. Particular attention is paid to the persistence or recurrence of need in the context of different housing pathways and different market contexts, including the relationship with poverty.