Indigenous home ownership rates improving but still low: Census

Rates of home ownership for Indigenous Australians are on the rise, but are still significantly lower than rates for non-Indigenous Australians, 2016 census data reveals.

The federal government’s 2016 Closing the Gap report said “buying a home should be a realistic choice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their families” and added that home ownership can foster ongoing financial security and independence for generations down the line.

However, data released last Tuesday shows that the home ownership dream is still out of reach for most Indigenous Australians.

The figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics report a growth in overall Indigenous home ownership (including outright owners and mortgagors) from 36 per cent in 2011 to 38.1 per cent in 2016. However, that number is still significantly lower than the 65.5 per cent home ownership rate for Australia in general (mortgagors and outright owners).

The disparity grows starker when comparing rates of outright home ownership. Thirty-one per cent of all Australians are homeowners, but only 12.2 per cent of Indigenous Australians own their homes outright.

Financial literacy

Amanda Young is CEO at First Nations Foundation, a charity with a mandate of improving economic prospects for the Indigenous community through promoting financial literacy as well as through partnerships with the Financial Services Council, Credit Union Australia and the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees.

She says Indigenous Australians are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to entering the housing market: “It’s cumulative. [For generations] they weren’t allowed to invest in property, they weren’t allowed to invest in homes, so there’s a whole generation of people who just have low financial literacy.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in May revealed that the number of Indigenous Australians who had been scammed jumped by 87 per cent in 2016, with 1,499 individual reports. 

In terms of major lenders, Ms Young says the steps they are taking towards closing the gap are good, but they don’t go far enough. According to Ms Young, the Indigenous community is: “An under-served market, not a charity. It’s actually a market that needs to be developed.”

“There's two ways of looking at this [lending to Indigenous peoples]; it's either about doing good or treating it as…  a market, this is just business as usual. We just have to come up with something new to these people.”

She adds that financial institutions should consider offering accessible products. Compounding the issue of poor financial literacy is a lack of collateral, low employment rates and the ability to leverage intergenerational wealth. Indigenous Australians “just bounce off all the mainstream products because they can’t save the 20 per cent [required for a deposit].”

The financial sector needs to think about creating products to help Indigenous Australians enter the stream, she told Mortgage Business, through having a more flexible approach to saving.  

An optimistic picture

Looking at the 2016 census statistics compared to the 1991 census figures paints a more optimistic picture; in 1991, 27.9 per cent of Indigenous Australians were home owners, and 11.1 per cent overall owned their home outright.

At the same time, home ownership figures for Australia in general showed 41.1 per cent of Australians owned their home outright, while 27.5 per cent were paying off their mortgage.

Australia marks National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week from 2-7 July 2017.

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Lucy Dean

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