A safe, secure home with working facilities is a key support for the good health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Good environmental health – the physical, chemical and biological factors external to a person that potentially affect their health (WHO 2020) – can influence life expectancy, young child mortality, disability, chronic disease, and family and community violence (SCRGSP 2020).

Historically, Indigenous Australians are over-represented among people who are homeless and those seeking assistance with housing. Not having affordable, secure and appropriate housing can further compound the social exclusion and disadvantage experienced by some Indigenous Australians (see Aged care for Indigenous Australians and Disability support for Indigenous Australians).

This page focuses on housing tenure (including ownership, rental and social housing), housing assistance, housing quality (including facilities and structural soundness) and overcrowding. It also looks at homelessness and the use of relevant services by Indigenous Australians and at the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

For information on Indigenous Australians’ health outcomes, key drivers of health and the performance of the health system, see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework (HPF) – summary report 2020.

Housing tenure

Housing tenure describes whether a dwelling is owned, rented or occupied under some other arrangement.

In 2018–19, an estimated 486,293 Indigenous Australian adults were living in Indigenous households according to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS) (AIHW & NIAA 2020). An Indigenous household is defined as one where at least 1 of its usual residents is Indigenous.

Of these Indigenous adults:

  • almost 1 in 3 (31%) were home owners – 10% owned their home outright and 21% had a mortgage
  • more than 2 in 3 (68%) were renters – 34% lived in social housing (see Glossary) and 34% were private renters or rented from another type of landlord (AIHW & NIAA 2020).

Home ownership

The proportion of Indigenous Australians who are home owners (with or without a mortgage) has remained constant over the years (Figure 1): 30% of Indigenous Australians in 2012–13, 29% in 2014–15 and 31% in 2018–19.

Private rental and social housing

NATSIHS data indicate that between 2008 and 2018–19, the proportion of Indigenous Australians who were renting:

  • social housing fell – from 38% in 2012–13 to 35% in 2014–15 and 34% in 2018–19
  • privately rose – from 30% in 2012–13 to 33% in 2014–15 and 2018–19 (Figure 1).

Remoteness area

Tenure type varies with remoteness area. In 2018–19, Indigenous Australians living in Remote and very remote areas combined were:

  • less likely to own their own home than Indigenous Australians in non-remote areas (11% compared with 36%)
  • more likely to live in social housing than Indigenous Australians in non-remote areas (71% compared with 25%) (AIHW & NIAA 2020) (Figure 2).

One factor that influences variation by remoteness is communal-title land in remote areas. Communal-title lands are those in remote Indigenous settlements that are jointly held in some form of a trust for the broader ‘community’ (Memmott et al. 2009). While a less common occurrence, certain communal-title lands lie within the boundaries of several regional towns and metropolitan cities in Australia; in some cases, these consist of conglomerates of freehold title blocks held collectively through a community housing organisation.

Housing assistance

Indigenous Australians face many barriers in the housing market, including discrimination; cultural and historical pressures, such as extended family structures; and intergenerational trauma (Flatau et al. 2005). Hence, they are a priority group for many housing assistance services provided under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (Australian Government 2018). Indigenous households commonly use social housing programs and Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA, see Glossary) (AIHW 2019a).

Social housing

Social housing is affordable rental housing provided by state and territory governments and the community sector. Its purpose is to assist people who are unable to access suitable rental accommodation in the private rental market (Thomas 2018) (See Table 1).

Table 1: Types of Social housing available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people


Indigenous specific housing

Owner and/or managed

Public housing


State or territory government

Community housing


Community organisation

State owned and managed Indigenous housing (SOMIH)


State or territory government

Indigenous community housing (ICH)


Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander organisation

As at 30 June 2020 (AIHW 2021):

  • 58,212 Indigenous Australian households were in social housing:
    • 34,824 in public housing
    • 13,822 in SOMIH
    • 9,566 in community housing
  • 17,396 ICH dwellings were managed by funded and unfunded ICH organisations
  • 14% of households in social housing included an Indigenous member (AIHW 2021).

Tenant satisfaction is measured by how the tenant/s rate the condition of their home and the number of its working facilities (see Housing quality). According to the Social Housing Survey, 2018:

  • 80% of community housing tenants were satisfied with their housing, compared with 74% of public housing and 66% of SOMIH tenants
  • 79% of Indigenous households said that the size of their dwelling met their needs
  • satisfaction with amenities has declined since 2016 among SOMIH tenants in respect to:
    • the number of bedrooms (from 84% to 83%)
    • the privacy of the home (from 88% to 85%)
    • thermal comfort (from 67% to 62%) (AIHW 2019b).

Commonwealth Rent Assistance

CRA is a non-taxable income supplement payable to eligible people who rent in private or community housing rental markets. It is the most common form of housing assistance received by Indigenous Australian households (AIHW 2019a).

As at 26 June 2020, 100,866 income units receiving CRA reported having an Indigenous member. This equates to 5.9% of all CRA income units (AIHW 2021), an increase from 3.6% in 2009 (AIHW 2019a).

Housing quality

Housing quality is closely related to environmental health and affects a range of health indicators (SCRGSP 2020). For instance, poor air quality, lack of power and safe drinking water, and inadequate waste and sanitation facilities all contribute to poorer health and welfare.

In 2018–19:

  • 1 in 5 (20%) Indigenous households were living in dwellings that did not meet an acceptable standard – defined in the NATSIHS as having at least 1 basic household facility that was unavailable or having more than 2 major structural problems
  • 33% of Indigenous households were living in dwellings with at least 1 major structural problem. Indigenous households in remote areas were more likely to live in dwellings with structural problems than those in non-remote areas (46% and 31%, respectively) (Figure 3)
  • 9.1% of Indigenous households had no access to working facilities for food preparation, 4.5% had no access to working facilities to wash clothes and bedding and 2.8% had no access to working facilities to wash household residents (AIHW & NIAA 2020).


National Agreement on Closing the Gap

 Target: By 2031, increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in appropriately sized (not overcrowded) housing to 88%, compared with a 2016 baseline level of 79%.

Note: The baseline value for this target was derived from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2016 Census of Population and Housing (Census).

The ABS 2016 Census identified that 10% of Indigenous households (26,377), across all types of housing tenure, were living in overcrowded dwellings (see Glossary) (ABS 2018a).   

Data are also available on the number of Indigenous Australians living in overcrowded dwellings. In 2018–19, almost 1 in 5 Indigenous Australians (18%, or an estimated 145,340 people) were living in overcrowded dwellings, compared with 5% of non-Indigenous Australians (AIHW & NIAA 2020).

Available data suggest a decline in overcrowding over time. The proportion of:

  • Indigenous households living in overcrowded conditions fell from 16% in 2001 to 10% in 2016 (AIHW 2019a)
  • Indigenous Australians living in overcrowded conditions fell from 27% in 2004–05 to 18% in 2018–19 (AIHW & NIAA 2020) (Figure 4).

This drop in overcrowding represents a narrowing of the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians from 22 to 13 percentage points (AIHW & NIAA 2020).

Overcrowding rates varied with remoteness. In 2018–19, the:

  • proportion of Indigenous Australians living in overcrowded dwellings was higher in remote areas (26% in Remote areas and 51% in Very remote areas) than in non-remote areas (ranging from 8% to 22%)
  • number of Indigenous Australians living in overcrowded dwellings was higher in Major cities, Inner regional and Outer regional areas (83,045 people) than in Remote and very remote areas (62,394) (AIHW & NIAA 2020).


Indigenous Australians are over-represented in both the national homeless population and as users of Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS).

The ABS 2016 Census showed that Indigenous Australians accounted for over one-fifth (22% or an estimated 23,437 people) of the homeless population nationally (ABS 2018b).

According to the 2014–15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS), 29% of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over had been homeless at some time in their life (ABS 2016).

2019–20 SHS data show that:

  • around 71,600 Indigenous Australians received SHS support. Indigenous Australians made up 27% of all SHS clients (AIHW 2020) but only 3.3% of the Australian population (ABS 2018c)
  • more than half (53%, or almost 38,000) of Indigenous SHS clients were aged under 25 compared with 41% (79,800) of non-Indigenous clients (AIHW 2020)
  • more Indigenous clients (65%) than non-Indigenous clients (57%) were returning clients (that is, they had received SHS services at some point since the collection began in 2011–12).

Impact of COVID-19

There are little data available on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Indigenous housing specifically. Results from various studies of the Australian population more broadly found that this pandemic, and associated societal changes:

  • negatively affected housing quality and affordability
  • exacerbated social isolation (Horne et al. 2020)
  • elevated levels of depression and anxiety (Dawel et al. 2020).

See ‘Chapter 5, COVID-19 effects on housing and homelessness: the story to mid-2021’ and ‘Chapter 3, The impact of COVID-19 on the wellbeing of Australians’ in Australia’s welfare 2021: data insights.

Furthermore, separation from family and reduced or cancelled visits by care workers proved challenging for many people (Horne et al. 2020). Existing vulnerabilities – such as poor housing quality and location; housing affordability; energy poverty; and a range of social, mental and physical health conditions – worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Brackertz 2020).

Fewer people across all jurisdictions left SOMIH in the last 6 months of 2019–20 (AIHW 2021), thus increasing waiting lists for SOMIH in some jurisdictions. Fewer new Indigenous households were assisted by SOMIH in 2019–20 than in 2018–19 (1,062 compared with 1,357). There were similar decreases in new households in public housing and community housing.

For detailed information on Indigenous homelessness, see Use of specialist homelessness services by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and ‘Chapter 6, Regional variation in assistance to homeless Indigenous Australians’ in Australia’s welfare 2021: data insights.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on Indigenous housing, see:


ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2016. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2014–15. Cat no. 4714.0. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 2 August 2021.

ABS 2018a. Census of Population and Housing, customised report. Prepared for: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

ABS 2018b. Census of Population and Housing: estimating homelessness, 2016. ABS cat. no. 2049.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 2 August 2021.

ABS 2018c. Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians June 2016. 2020 web report. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 2 August 2021.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019a. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: a focus report on housing and homelessness. Cat. no. HOU 301. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 2 August 2021.

AIHW 2019b. National Social Housing Survey, 2018: key results. Cat. no. HOU 311. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 2 August 2021.

AIHW 2020. Specialist Homelessness Services Annual Report. Cat. no. HOU 322. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 2 August 2021.

AIHW 2021. Housing assistance in Australia. Cat. no: HOU 325. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 2 August 2021.

AIHW & NIAA (National Indigenous Australians Agency) 2020. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework: 2.01 Housing. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 2 August 2021.

Australian Government 2018. National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. Canberra: Australian Government. Viewed 2 August 2021.

Brackertz N 2020. The role of housing insecurity and homelessness in suicidal behaviour and effective interventions to reduce suicidal thoughts and behaviours: a review of the evidence. AHURI final report no. 345. Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Limited (AHURI).

Dawel A, Shou Y, Smithson M, Cherbuin N, Banfield M, Calear AL et al. 2020. The effect of COVID-19 on mental health and wellbeing in a representative sample of Australian adults. Frontiers in Psychiatry 11:579985.

Flatau P, Cooper L, McGrath N, Edwards D, Hart A, Morris M et al. 2005. Indigenous access to mainstream public and community housing. AHURI Final Report no. 85. Melbourne: AHURI.

Horne R, Willand N, Dorignon L & Middha B 2020. The lived experience of COVID-19: housing and household resilience. AHURI Final Report no. 345. Melbourne: AHURI.

Memmott P, Moran M, Birdsall-Jones C, Fantin S, Kreutz A, Godwin J et al. 2009. Indigenous home-ownership on communal title lands. AHURI Final Report no. 139. Melbourne: AHURI.

SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2020. Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage: key indicators 2020. Canberra: Productivity Commission.

Thomas M 2018. Social housing and homelessness. Budget review 2017–18, Parliament of Australia.

WHO (World Health Organization) 2020. WHO Global Strategy on Health, Environment and Climate Change: the transformation needed to improve lives and wellbeing sustainably through healthy environments. Geneva: World Health Organization.