As an area of concern, housing refers to the many issues surrounding the way in which the fundamental human need for shelter from the elements, and associated needs for privacy and security, are met. Housing is most readily defined in terms of the physical structures used to provide shelter which can take many forms. These forms can be culturally specific and change over time. For example, in the earliest days of Australian settlement by Indigenous people they included bark shelters, caves or rock overhangs, and when European settlers and convicts arrived, tents and slab huts were among the first forms of shelter. Today, detached houses with their own yards are common. Other forms include terraced houses, flats, townhouses and caravans, to name a few. Some homeless people find temporary shelter in places that were not meant to be inhabited. Most dwellings are arranged to meet the interests of individuals and their living companions (commonly family members) for separate, or private, places of residence. However, many places of residence also provide for people in special circumstances, for example, hotels for travellers, boarding houses for students, temporary road camps for travelling construction workers, crisis accommodation for the needy, nursing homes for the elderly, and so on.
Dwellings are complex structures that encompass much more than their physical forms. They have unique combinations of physical, economic, consumption and locational attributes, each of which have implications for the wellbeing of their occupants. Physical attributes include those related to their size and, for example, the availability and quality of heating, cooking and plumbing services, whether they have a good roof, a spacious garden, a garage or any number of other features. The economic aspects of dwellings include ownership rights, their cost and affordability, their value as investments. A dwelling's locational attributes, such as its proximity to the workplace and to services, and the quality of the neighbourhood environment in which it is placed, are also important attributes in considerations of wellbeing.
Housing can also be considered in terms of the many activities associated with its provision. These include the businesses of land allocation, infrastructure development, dwelling design and construction, organising purchases and sales, home maintenance and home improvement activities, meeting costs and helping those in need of support. These activities can be viewed as economic activities involving various groups within the economy. Those involved include governments, financial institutions, the construction industry, suppliers of building materials, real estate agents, community service groups concerned with providing emergency shelter and households themselves.