The housing circumstances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people differ markedly from those of other Australians. Indigenous people are much less likely to own their homes and are more likely to receive some form of government housing assistance. The average size of Indigenous households is larger than the size of other Australian households. Some Indigenous people, particularly those in more remote areas, live in poorly maintained housing without essential infrastructure such as a supply of safe drinking water or effective sewerage systems. Indigenous people are also vulnerable to homelessness because of their relative social and economic disadvantage.
Housing has been identified as a major factor affecting the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Inadequate or poorly maintained housing and the absence of functioning infrastructure can pose serious health risks. Overcrowded dwellings and poor quality housing have been associated with poorer physical and mental health among residents.
Housing assistance programs are especially important for Indigenous people as they are generally aimed at people on low incomes or those with special needs (box 4.5). A large proportion of Indigenous households rent their accommodation through housing assistance programs such as public housing or Indigenous community housing. For those in the private rental market, rent assistance programs provide an important income supplement for lower income households. Housing assistance programs also play a role in relation to homelessness both by directly assisting homeless people and by helping those at risk of homelessness. For example, the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) was designed specifically to assist homeless people with accommodation and other services.
This chapter describes the characteristics of Indigenous households and their housing circumstances. It includes data on tenure type and housing assistance, location and housing costs. The chapter examines the relationship between housing and health, and provides data on those housing characteristics that may contribute to poor health outcomes - overcrowding and poor quality housing. The final part of the chapter focuses on those who are most disadvantaged in relation to housing, namely homeless people. Detailed information on the characteristics of homeless people is provided through data from the AIHW SAAP National Data Collection.
For the purposes of analysis, Indigenous households have been defined as households containing at least one Indigenous person of any age, excluding visitors. This definition is also used in the National Housing Assistance Data Dictionary (AIHW 2006e).