Notes on the data: Housing, and rent assistance

Aboriginal persons living in rented social housing dwellings, 2021


Policy context:  Housing is a fundamental requirement for one’s health and wellbeing. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population experiences higher rates of homelessness and is over-represented among people that seek homelessness and social housing services than non-Indigenous Australians [1,2]

Social housing includes all rental housing owned and managed by government or non-government organisations (including non-profit); social housing rents in general are set below market levels and determined by household income [3]. The social housing services system seeks to provide low income people with access to social housing assistance; supporting their wellbeing and contributing to their social and economic participation by providing services that are timely and affordable, safe, appropriate (meeting the needs of individual households), high quality and sustainable [4].The distribution of public rental housing remains an indicator of socioeconomic disadvantage.

There is a clear link between cold homes and ill-health, where existing conditions such as respiratory illnesses or mental health conditions are exacerbated. Renters in public housing, particularly those living in older public housing buildings, are less able to moderate temperatures in extreme weather conditions as these homes were built without insulation or passive cooling and heating features [5,6].

Since 2001, Indigenous home ownership as a proportion of Indigenous households has increased from 32% to 41% in 2021, with Indigenous households almost twice as likely to rent compared to non-Indigenous households [2, 6]. Even though the proportion of households in social housing in this period decreased for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, the proportion of Indigenous households (18%) in social housing remains significantly higher than other households (3%) [6]. While the proportion of Indigenous households in social housing decreased from 31.3% in 2001 to 18.0% in 2021, the proportion in private rental housing increased from 25% to 37% over the same period [2, 6]. This increase in renting privately-owned dwellings comes at a considerable cost and added stress to Aboriginal households.


  1. Bailie R. and Wayte, K. Housing and health in Indigenous communities: Key issues for housing and health improvement in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Australian Journal of Rural Health 2006; 14:178-183.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: a focus report on housing and homelessness 2019. Cat. no. HOU 301. Canberra: AIHW; 2019. Available from:; last accessed 16 December 2019.
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Housing Assistance in Australia 2017. Canberra: AIHW; 2017. Available from:; last accessed 5 December 2017.
  4. Productivity Commission. Housing and Homelessness in Report on Government Services 2017. Available from; last accessed 5 December 2017.
  5. Public Health England. Local action on health inequalities evidence review 7: Fuel poverty and cold home-related health problems. Public Heath England; 2014
  6. Tehan B. Extreme heat and vulnerable Victorian households. Victorian Council of Social Service; 2016. Available from; last accessed 14 January 2020.
  7. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples Profile, ABS 2021, accessed 3 February 2023. Available from:

Notes:  The data include persons in households in private dwellings only.

Private dwelling: A private dwelling can be a house, flat or even a room. It can also be a caravan, houseboat, tent, or a house attached to an office, or rooms above a shop.

Social housing: Occupied private dwellings rented from a government housing authority, or a community housing group (a housing co-operative, community or church group).


Geography: Data available by Indigenous Area, Primary Health Network, Quintile of socioeconomic outcomes (based on IRSEO) and Remoteness Area


Numerator: Aboriginal persons living in rented social housing dwellings (counting persons)


Denominator: Total Aboriginal persons living in private dwellings


Detail of analysis:  Per cent


Source:  Compiled by PHIDU based on the ABS Census of Population and Housing, August 2021.


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