This article reviews the applicability of Kingdon's garbage-can model of agenda setting and alternative specification for understanding the complexities of policy-making in the housing policy context. Garbage-can theories reject conventional 'policy cycle' models which envisage policy development processes as rational and underpinned by the logic of problem solving. They posit a loose relationship between problems and the policy solutions offered by national governments. Using an Australian housing policy case study, this article demonstrates the usefulness of Kingdon's garbage-can theory. A modified framework is used to explain how the policy agenda has become narrowed to focus on safety-net assistance for the most disadvantaged, while housing problems have continued to worsen.