Stable and secure housing is fundamentally important to health and wellbeing. Historically, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have experienced much higher rates of homelessness and have been overrepresented among clients seeking homelessness and social housing services than non-Indigenous Australians. These higher rates of unstable housing relate to complex and interrelated factors including the lasting impacts of colonisation on Indigenous Australians, exposure to family violence, substance disorders, unemployment, low education levels and poor health—which are both contributors to, and outcomes of, insecure housing circumstances (Flatau et al. 2005; Keys Young 1998; Silburn et al. 2018).

Even though there is still much progress to be made, the findings in this report covering the last 15 years demonstrate the housing situation of Indigenous Australians has improved—with rises in home ownership and housing provided through the private rental market, and falling levels of homelessness.

More Indigenous households own their home or rent privately

Across the 4 most recent Censuses, there has been a steady rise in Indigenous home ownership, with 38% of Indigenous households (or around 100,000) owning a home (with or without a mortgage) in 2016, compared with 32% in 2001. The opposite trend was observed for other Australian households (69% home ownership in 2001, 66% in 2016).

For both Indigenous and other Australians, there was a steady fall in the proportion of households in social housing between 2001 and 2016, offset by a rise in the proportion of private renters. Indigenous households were consistently more likely than other households to be renting in private housing (32% compared with 25% in 2016) over the period. The largest difference between Indigenous and other households remains the proportion of households renting in social housing (21% compared with 4% in 2016), however, this gap has been narrowing over time.

Fewer households in mortgage stress, more in rental stress

Increasing home ownership levels are a positive sign, particularly when considered in combination with data about households in mortgage stress. The proportion of Indigenous households with a mortgage considered to be in mortgage stress has dropped from a peak of 30% in 2011 to 21% in 2016. In 2016, 68,000 Indigenous home owners had a mortgage (26% of Indigenous households).

In contrast, of those Indigenous households renting, the proportion considered to be in rental stress increased from 22% in 2001 to 39% in 2016. In private rental housing, rental stress for Indigenous households increased similarly in both urban and rural areas over this period (from 34% to 43% in urban areas and 29% to 38% in rural areas in 2016).

Indigenous households in public housing

While the proportion of the Indigenous household population living in social housing has decreased, the number of households has increased. There are three main types of social housing available to eligible Australians. In 2016–17, of the 66,700 Indigenous households in social housing:

  1. Half (50%, or 33,300) were in public housing, with this number rising by one-third (8,200 households) since 2008–09.
  2. The number of Indigenous households in community housing more than doubled from 2,700 households in 2008–09 to 5,800 in 2016–17.
  3. In contrast, the numbers of households in Indigenous-specific housing programs remained relatively stable over the period (around 10,000 for state owned and managed housing (SOMIH) and 18,000 for Indigenous community housing).

Fall in wait times for social housing

Waiting times for Indigenous Australians are generally shorter compared with other applicants. For both public housing and SOMIH housing programs there were improvements from 2013–14 to 2016–17. A larger proportion of clients waited less than 3 months (35% in 2013–14 and 42% in 2016–17 for public housing and 38% and 48% for SOMIH), and a smaller proportion waited more than 2 years to be housed. However, up to 1 in 6 (17%) Indigenous households waited more than 2 years for public housing.

Conditions in social housing have also improved over the 6 years to 2018. Data show a fall in overcrowding among Indigenous households, and a rise in the proportion of Indigenous tenants who rated their dwellings at an ‘acceptable’ standard.

1 in 28 Indigenous people are homeless

One in 28 Indigenous people (23,000) were homeless on Census night in 2016—representing more than 1 in 5 (22%) homeless Australians. More than half of Indigenous people experiencing homelessness lived in Very remote areas.

The rate of Indigenous homelessness decreased from 571 per 10,000 population in 2006 to 361 in 2016. The decline in Indigenous homelessness since 2006 is due predominantly to the decrease in Indigenous people living in ‘severely’ crowded dwellings (75% in 2006 to 70% in 2016). However, the 2016 Indigenous homelessness rate is 10 times that of non-Indigenous Australians. The differences in the rates of homelessness for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians were higher in Remote and Very remote areas than in Major cities.

The main type of homelessness experienced by Indigenous Australians was living in ‘severely crowded’ dwellings; that is, dwellings that need 4 or more extra bedrooms. Of those homeless on Census night 2016, Indigenous Australians (70%) were much more likely than non-Indigenous Australians (42%) to be living in severely crowded dwellings, yet the gap has narrowed over the past decade. Indigenous Australians were 68 times more likely to live in severely crowded dwellings in 2006; decreasing to 16 times more likely in 2016.

1 in 4 specialist homelessness services clients are Indigenous

Indigenous clients made up a quarter (25%) of all clients assisted by specialist homelessness services (SHS) in 2017–18; a rate 9 times that of non-Indigenous clients (803 per 10,000 population compared with 86). Most Indigenous people using these services were at risk of homelessness (53%), with the remainder homeless (47%), when they sought assistance.

Since 2011–12, SHS have assisted more Indigenous clients (43,600 in 2011–12; 65,200 in 2017–18). Of the Indigenous SHS clients in 2017–18:

  • 1 in 8 (13% or 8,500) were aged under 5, reflecting that families often seek assistance
  • 4 in 10 had experienced domestic and family violence (domestic and family violence was a reason they sought help and/or they required domestic or family violence assistance).

Homelessness services help clients keep tenancies and find homes

In 2017–18, more than half of Indigenous SHS clients (53% or 32,400 people) sought help when they were in unstable housing situations (at risk of homelessness)—more than 1 in 2 (16,400 clients) were living in social housing (either renting or rent free) when they sought assistance, while another third (12,100 clients) were in private or other housing (renting, rent free or owning). Most clients at risk of homelessness (89%) maintained their tenancies with SHS support.

Of the 20,700 Indigenous clients who were homeless when they sought help from SHS and had ended support in 2017–18, 38% (or 7,200 clients) were assisted into stable housing; an increase from 29% in 2012–13. In 2017–18 most Indigenous homeless clients who were assisted into housing ended support in social housing (around 3,800) with a further 3,100 clients in private rentals.