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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework - Summary report


Stable and secure housing is fundamentally important to health and wellbeing. Housing circumstances—such as tenure, affordability, the amount of living space and location—are key determinants of physical and mental health (Foster et al. 2011; Marsh et al. 2000). However, causal relationships between poor housing and poor health are complex, and directionality is not always clear. For example, poor housing circumstances can contribute to poor health, and poor health can result in households living in worse housing circumstances (Brackertz & Wilkinson 2017).

Appropriately sized housing

Overcrowding, according to the Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS), is defined as a situation in which one or more additional bedrooms would be required to adequately house its inhabitants, given the number, age, sex and relationships of household members. It specifies that:

  • there should be no more than 2 people per bedroom
  • children aged less than 5 of different sexes may reasonably share a bedroom
  • children aged 5 or over of the opposite sex should have separate bedrooms
  • children aged less than 18 of the same sex may reasonably share a bedroom
  • single household members aged 18 or over should have a separate bedroom, as should parents and couples
  • a lone person household may reasonably occupy a bed sitter (AIHW 2014a).

The importance of secure, appropriate and affordable housing is reflected in the Closing the Gap target to increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in appropriately sized (not overcrowded) housing to 88 per cent by 2031 – see Target 9A in the Closing the Gap Information Repository.

According to the ABS Census of Population and Housing, in 2021, about 569,400 (81%) Indigenous Australians lived in appropriately sized housing. This proportion ranged from 43% to 91% across states and territories. The proportion of Indigenous Australians living in appropriately sized housing was lower than for non-Indigenous Australians (81% compared with 94%, respectively) (Figure 5.5).

Indigenous Australians in remote areas had higher rates of household overcrowding than those in non-remote areas. In 2021, the proportion of Indigenous Australians living in appropriately sized housing ranged from 88% in Major cities to 45% in Very remote areas (Figure 5.5).

Figure 5.5: Proportion of Indigenous Australians living in appropriately sized housing (not overcrowded), by jurisdiction, and by remoteness, 2021

The first column chart shows the proportion of Indigenous Australians living in appropriately sized housing decreased with increasing remoteness, from 88% in Major cities to 45% in Very remote areas. The second column chart shows the proportion of Indigenous Australians living in appropriately sized housing was highest in the Australian Capital Territory (91%), Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales (all around 88%). Most of the remaining jurisdictions (South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia) ranged between 79% and 83%, with the lowest proportion in Northern Territory (43%).

Sources: Measure 2.01, Table D2.01.10 and Table D2.01.9 – AIHW analysis of ABS Census of Population and Housing 2021 (ABS 2021).

Housing assistance

The Australian and state and territory governments provide a range of assistance to people having difficulty with finding or sustaining affordable and appropriate housing in the private housing market. Housing assistance refers to both access to social housing (such as public housing) as well as targeted financial assistance for eligible Australians.

At 30 June 2022, there were around 79,166 Indigenous households living in one of the 4 main types of social housing:

  • 38,251 in public housing
  • 13,424 in SOMIH
  • 11,210 in community housing
  • 16,281 in Indigenous community housing (AIHW 2023a).

Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) may be available for eligible tenants who rent in private rental market or community housing to help reduce rental stress (defined as spending more than 30% of gross income on rent).  At 30 June 2022, 89,485 CRA recipients reported having an Indigenous member (6.6% of all recipients).

Housing tenure

Housing tenure – whether a person owns or is buying a home, is renting privately or is living in social housing – can affect health. Home ownership can provide security, stability and autonomy, but housing costs can leave less money available for other necessities (Hulse et al. 2010).

Although Indigenous households are less likely than non-Indigenous households to own or be buying their own home, the gap has narrowed.

In 2021, over 4 in 10 (42%) Indigenous households were homeowners (owned outright and owned with a mortgage), compared with 37% in 2011 and 40% in 2016. The proportion of households that were home owners (owned outright and owned with a mortgage) in 2021 was lower for Indigenous households than for other households (42% compared with 68%) (Table 5.3).

Table 5.3: Housing tenure trends for households, 2011–2021 (%)

Housing tenure and landlord type

Indigenous households(a) 2011

Indigenous households(a)  2016

Indigenous households(a)  2021

 Other households 2011

Other households 2016

Other households 2021

Home owners (owned outright and owned with a mortgage)







Renters: real estate agent







Renters: State or territory housing authority







Renters: Person not in same household(b)







Renters: Community housing provider







Renters: Other landlord type(c)







a) An Indigenous household is a household that has at least 1 Indigenous person who is a usual resident.

b) Comprises dwellings being rented from a parent/other relative or other person.

c) Includes rented dwellings with a landlord such as an owner/manager of a of residential park (including caravan parks and manufactured home estates) or employer.

Note: Table excludes other tenure types and tenure type not stated.

Source: Measure 2.01, Table D2.01.20. AIHW analysis of ABS Census of Population and Housing 2021 (AIHW 2019a).


People are considered homeless if their current dwelling is inadequate; or if they have no tenure or their tenure is short and not able to be extended; or if their current living arrangement does not give them control of, or access to, space for social relations (ABS 2016b).

In 2021, 24,900 Indigenous Australians were homeless on Census night (3.1% of Indigenous Australians (ABS 2023b). Among Indigenous Australians experiencing homelessness:

  • 60% (or 15,000) of homeless Indigenous Australians were living in severely crowded dwellings (needing four or more extra bedrooms under CNOS)
  • 19% (4,800) were living in supported accommodation for the homeless
  • 9% (2,300) were living in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping rough; and
  • the remaining 12% (2,900) were staying temporarily with other households, living in boarding houses, or living in other temporary lodgings.

Between 2011 and 2021, the rate of homelessness among the Indigenous population declined from 487 to 307 per 10,000 population.

The rate of homelessness among Indigenous Australians was 8.8 times the rate for non-Indigenous Australians (306.8 compared with 34.9 per 10,000 population), however the gap in homelessness rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians decreased between 2011 and 2021 (from 453 to 272 per 10,000 population).

Specialist homelessness services (SHS) provide a wide range of services to assist people who are experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness, ranging from general support and assistance to immediate crisis accommodation (AIHW 2022d). In 2021–22, around 72,900 Indigenous clients received support from SHS, which is equivalent to 8% of the Indigenous population or 821 Indigenous clients per 100,000 population nationally. Indigenous Australians used specialist homelessness services at 11 times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians (74 per 10,000 population), after adjusting for differences in age structure between the two populations.

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