A safe, secure home with working facilities is a key factor supporting the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Not having affordable, secure and appropriate housing can have negative consequences, including homelessness, poor health, and lower rates of employment and education participation—all of which can lead to social exclusion and disadvantage (AIHW 2017).

This page focuses on housing stability (including tenure and housing assistance), housing quality (including facilities and structural soundness) and potential overcrowding. It also looks at homelessness and the use of relevant services by Indigenous Australians.

Home ownership and housing tenure

Housing tenure describes whether a dwelling is owned, rented or occupied under some other arrangement. Based on the 2016 Census of Population and Housing (ABS 2018), of the estimated 263,037 Indigenous households, nearly:

  • 2 in 5 (38%) were home owners—12% owned their home outright and 26% had a mortgage
  • 3 in 5 (57%) were renters—21% lived in social housing and the rest (36%) were private renters or rented from another type of landlord.

The rate of home ownership (with or without a mortgage) has gradually increased among Indigenous Australian households: 34% owned their home in 2006; 36% in 2011; and 38% in 2016 (Figure 1). 

In contrast, the home ownership rate among Other Australian households (see glossary for definition of Other households) decreased slightly over the same period: 69% owned their home in 2006; 68% in 2011; and 66% in 2016. This resulted in a closing of the home ownership gap by 7 percentage points over the decade (AIHW 2019a).

Census data also indicate that over the decade between 2006 and 2016, the proportion of Indigenous households:

  • living in social housing decreased—29% lived in social housing in 2006, 26% in 2011 and 21% in 2016
  • renting privately increased—27% rented privately in 2006, 29% in 2011 and 32% in 2016 (Figure 1).

Differences in tenure type exist by remoteness area. In 2016, Indigenous households in Remote and very remote areas combined were:

  • less than half as likely to own their own home as Indigenous households in non-remote areas (18% compared with 41%)
  • 3 times as likely to live in social housing as Indigenous households in non-remote areas (56% compared with 17%) (ABS 2018).

A number of factors may influence the variation by remoteness in the tenure of Indigenous households. One is that community-titled land is more common in remote areas, and Indigenous households living on community-titled land face additional barriers in obtaining individual land ownership (see AIHW 2019a).

Housing assistance

Due to the barriers many Indigenous Australians face in the housing market, they are a priority group for, or focus of, many housing assistance services. Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) and social housing assist the largest number of Indigenous households (AIHW 2017).

Data for this section are from the AIHW’s annual National Housing Assistance Data Repository.

Commonwealth Rent Assistance

CRA is a non-taxable income supplement payable to eligible people who rent in private or community housing rental markets. Recipients are ‘income units’—that is, a person or a group of persons within a household who share command over income. Generally, there are more income units than households.

Data on CRA recipients show that, as at 30 June 2018, 72,981 income units receiving CRA reported having an Indigenous member. This equates to 5.6% of all CRA income units, an increase from 3.6% in 2009 (AIHW 2019a; SCRGSP 2019).

Social housing

Social housing is rental housing provided by state and territory governments and community sectors. Its purpose is to assist people who are unable to access suitable accommodation in the private rental market. Social housing includes public housing, state owned and managed Indigenous housing, community housing, and Indigenous community housing (AIHW 2019a).

As at 30 June 2018:

  • 55,859 Indigenous households were in social housing, with most (35,619) in public housing, 13,817 in state owned and managed Indigenous housing and 6,423 in community housing (SCRGSP 2019)
  • 17,477 permanent Indigenous community housing (ICH) dwellings were managed by funded and unfunded ICH organisations (AIHW 2019b)
  • 1 in 7 (14%) households in social housing included an Indigenous member (AIHW 2019b).

Quality of housing

The 2014–15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey collected information on: basic types of household facilities considered important for a healthy living environment; and whether the household dwelling had major structural problems.

In 2014–15:

  • 29% of Indigenous Australians were living in a dwelling with major structural problems. Most commonly, these were major cracks in walls or floors, followed by major plumbing problems
  • 15% of Indigenous Australians were living in a household in which at least 1 basic facility considered important for a healthy living environment (namely, facilities for preparing food, washing clothes, washing people, or sewerage facilities) were not available or did not work
  • nearly 1 in 5 (19%) Indigenous Australians were living in a house that did not meet an acceptable standard—that is, at least 1 basic household facility was unavailable or there were more than 2 major structural problems
  • Indigenous Australians in remote areas were more likely than those in non-remote areas to be living in a dwelling with major structural problems (37% compared with 27% respectively), that lacked basic household facilities (27% compared with 11%) or that did not meet acceptable standards (31% compared with 16%).

The proportion of Indigenous Australians living in dwellings with major structural problems or in which 1 or more basic facilities were not available was similar in 2014–15 and in 2008 (AIHW 2017).

Overcrowding

According to the 2016 Census, 10% of Indigenous households (about 26,400), across all types of housing tenure, were living in overcrowded dwellings (see glossary) (ABS 2018).

Data are also available on the number of Indigenous Australians living in overcrowded dwellings. In 2016, 1 in 5 Indigenous Australians (20%, or about 114,400 people) were living in overcrowded dwellings.

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

  • households living in overcrowded conditions fell from 16% in 2001 to 10% in 2016.
  • Australians living in overcrowded conditions decreased from 30% in 2001 to 20% in 2016.

In contrast, around 3% of Other households were considered to be overcrowded and 6% to 7% of non-Indigenous Australians were living in overcrowded conditions in each of the last 4 Census years (2001, 2006, 2011, 2016) (ABS 2018; AIHW 2014). These data suggest some narrowing of the gap in overcrowding levels over the decade (Figure 2).

Differences in overcrowding exist by remoteness area. In 2016, the:

  • proportion of Indigenous households living in overcrowded dwellings was higher in more remote areas—15% in Remote areas and 34% in Very remote areas compared with between 8% to 10% in other areas
  • number of Indigenous households living in overcrowded dwellings was higher in Major cities and regional areas (19,024 households) than in Remote and very remote areas combined (7,357).

Homelessness

Indigenous Australians continue to be over-represented in both the national homeless population and as users of Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS). They make up 3.3% of the Australian population, yet have consistently higher rates of homelessness and service use than non-Indigenous Australians (AIHW 2019c).

According to 2014–15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey data, 29% of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over had been homeless at some time. By comparison, data from the 2014 General Social Survey suggest that 13% of non-Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over had ever experienced homelessness (AIHW 2017).

SHS data show that:

  • in 2017–18, an estimated 65,200 Indigenous Australians accessed SHS. Indigenous Australians made up 25% of all SHS clients
  • Indigenous SHS client numbers increased by 1% between 2016–17 and 2017–18, growing at a similar rate to the general SHS population (2% increase) (AIHW 2019c).

Comparisons with non-Indigenous Australians

Disparities exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians across a range of housing measures.

Compared with non-Indigenous Australians, Indigenous Australians were:

  • 1/2 x as likely to own their own home (with or without a mortgage)
  • 10 x as likely to live in social housing
  • 3 x as likely to live in overcrowded dwellings
  • 9 x as likely to access Specialist Homelessness Services.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on Indigenous housing, see:

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2016. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2014-15. ABS cat. no. 4714.0. Canberra: ABS.

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

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2014. Housing circumstances of Indigenous households: tenure and overcrowding. Cat. no. IHW 132. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2017. Australia’s welfare 2017. Australia’s welfare series no. 13. AUS 214. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019a. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: a focus report on housing and homelessness. Cat no. HOU 301. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019b.  Housing Assistance Australia 2019 (web report). Cat. no. HOU 315 Canberra: AIHW. 

AIHW 2019c. Specialist homelessness services annual report 2017–18 (web report). Cat no. HOU 299. Canberra: AIHW.

SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2019, Report on Government Services 2019, Productivity Commission, Canberra.

Alternative text for figures

Figure 1: Tenure type, Indigenous households, 2006, 2011 and 2016

Horizontal stacked column graph showing the percent of Indigenous households by tenure type for the census years 2006, 2011, and 2016. In 2006, 23% of Indigenous households owned their home with a mortgage, 11% owned their home outright, 29% were living in social housing, 27% were private renters, 4% were other renters, and 6% were in other tenure or tenure not stated. The proportions were similar for the 2011 and 2016 census years.

Figure 2: Proportion of people living in overcrowded households, by Indigenous status, 2001 to 2016

Horizontal time trend line graph showing the percent of people living in overcrowded households, by Indigenous status, for the census years 2001, 2006, 2011, and 2016. Indigenous Australians: 30% in 2001; 26% in 2006; 25% in 2011; 20% in 2016. Non-Indigenous Australians: 6% in 2001, 2006, and 2011; 7% in 2016.