The demography of the Indigenous proportion of Australia's population represents a special case for social
housing need. In summary, this is because:
* Access to secure, safe and appropriate housing is a condition precedent to improving the health and
wellbeing of Indigenous people;
* A relatively high proportion of Indigenous people already rely on access to social housing;
* This reliance is increasing as the Indigenous population grows at a rate faster than that of the
non-Indigenous population; and
* There is already a relatively high amount of unmet need for Indigenous housing.
Access to secure, safe and appropriate social housing is intrinsic to improving the health and wellbeing of
Indigenous people. The national Closing the Gap agenda  focuses attention on improving the relatively
poor health and wellbeing of Indigenous people in Australia, as evidenced most significantly by a shorter life
expectancy. Access to secure, safe and appropriate housing has long been recognised in human development
theory as a necessary condition for improving the health, education and economic participation prospects for
people. These are the very prospects the Closing the Gap agenda targets.
Prevailing housing conditions in places where there are strong concentrations of Indigenous people - including
within cities, regional towns and remote communities - suggest that Australia continues to fail to achieve this
basic requirement for the development of its Indigenous people. The high to severe levels of overcrowding
regularly observed and recorded in much of the housing that is provided for these places is the most obvious
indicator of this failure, and the most serious threat to access, security of tenure and safety. This failure means
we must also intensively question the appropriateness of the ways through which we currently seek to provide
housing to Indigenous people. Until we answer this question and address these failures, any attempts to
improve the health and wellbeing of Indigenous people are at risk.
The relatively high reliance of Indigenous people on social housing. Indigenous households represent around
2.3% of all households in Australia. However, in 2006, Indigenous households represented 13.6% of all
Australian households renting from a state or territory housing authority or a housing co-operative / community /
church group. This demonstrates a significant over-representation of Indigenous households relying upon
access to social housing. In 2006, 28% of Indigenous households rented housing from a state or territory
housing authority, or a housing co-operative / community / church group. This compares to just 4% of
This reliance is increasing as the Indigenous population grows faster than the non-Indigenous population.
Between 2001 and 2006, Australia's Indigenous population increased by 13%. This compares to a population
increase of 6% for Australia as a whole. Given the Indigenous population's relative disadvantage and its greater
reliance on social housing, it can be expected that in the medium term social housing need amongst
Indigenous people will increase relative to the non-Indigenous population.
The level of current unmet need compounds the challenge of meeting future need. In Australia,
Indigenous-specific social housing rental stock generally finds itself in one of two classifications:
* State Owned and Managed Indigenous Housing (SOMIH); or
* Housing owned and managed by Indigenous or other non-state housing organisations.
Looking at the level of unmet need just in the SOMIH classification, according to Australian Institute of Health
& Welfare research, at 30 June 2008, 10,726 Indigenous households were on waiting lists for SOMIH. At the
same time, the total tenantable dwelling stock for SOMIH was 12,573 and 12,375 households held tenancies,
an occupancy rate of 98.5%. Thus, around 10,000 dwellings are required just to address the current unmet
need for SOMIH.
We do not know how large the waiting list is outside the SOMIH sector. We do know that in 2006 - across both
sectors - 10,537 houses met the definition used by the ABS of overcrowding. Amongst houses that are
overcrowded in the SOMIH sector, 4.9 people live in each dwelling on average. Amongst houses defined
as overcrowded in the community housing sector, on average 7.9 people live in each dwelling. If we assume
that these averages need to fall to 3 people per dwelling to eliminate overcrowding, then an additional 12,000
dwellings are needed to house these tenants in non-overcrowded conditions.
Therefore we know that the total quantity of unmet need is at least 10,000 dwellings to clear the SOMIH waiting
list, plus 12,000 dwellings to eliminate overcrowding - i.e., 22,000 houses. This can be considered a minimum,
since it excludes households on waiting lists in the community housing sector. It also assumes that the number
of indigenous people living in overcrowded social housing dwellings has remained constant since 2006. If we add
unmet demand to the 2006 total dwelling stock of 57,382, we obtain a figure for total demand for social housing
of around 80,000 dwellings. If total demand grows at 2.43% per year - which was the rate of indigenous population
growth between 2001 and 2006 - and housing stock were to remain constant, the level of unmet demand would
increase rapidly, as shown in the table below.
Figure 1. Estimate of Total Demand and Unmet Demand