When Uncle Tom Slockee moved to Batemans Bay in the 1980s with his wife Muriel, racism against Indigenous people proved a barrier to finding housing.
"I went looking for land to buy or a house to rent, and in those days people would withdraw their offers of sale, or I couldn't rent," Uncle Tom said.
As someone who had served in the Army and could advocate for himself, he felt that if he struggled to buy or rent, other Aboriginal people must be hitting the same walls.
This propelled the Slockees to start their own Aboriginal community housing organisation.
They got a grant which allowed them to house five Aboriginal families, and from there began increasing their housing stock to give homes to their people.
"Most of them were homeless or living in really crowded, deplorable conditions," Uncle Tom said.
Uncle Tom is now the chair of Aboriginal community-controlled housing provider SEARMS, which operates across a large swathe of southern NSW.
To mark its 20th anniversary, Uncle Tom and Kiama-based historian Dr Tony Gilmour have written a book titled An Aboriginal Voice in Housing, which tells the history of both the organisation and the sector within the context of colonisation, government policies and events such as the 1967 referendum.
Dr Gilmour said the former Housing Commission built a lot of housing in the wake of World War II to get non-Aboriginal people into home ownership, but the same was not happening for Indigenous people.
Under Harold Holt's government the Commonwealth began funding Aboriginal housing in 1969, he said, and in the 1970s and 80s many Aboriginal housing organisations were established.
In the 1990s the NSW government established the Aboriginal Housing Office (AHO), for which Uncle Tom - whom Dr Gilmour described as an "unsung hero" - served as the first chair.
Uncle Tom said the AHO eventually got ownership of about 5000 purchased with Aboriginal funding that the government had owned, and wanted to move that to community ownership and management.
But funding for urban and regional areas dried up as government focus shifted to remote communities, he said, and the small housing organisations did not get necessary government support.
Uncle Tom said one of the ideas of SEARMS was to act as a collective, in order to build the scale to effect change.
"We're at a position now where we can actually look to the future with confidence that we might be able to get more funds or loans to build houses for our people," he said.
SEARMS chief executive officer Kim Sinclair said the organisation managed about 480 properties housing roughly 2400 people, including its own properties, government-owned homes and those owned by other Aboriginal organisations.
A challenge now was funding: after paying fixed costs like insurance - which more than doubled after the Black Summer bushfires - Ms Sinclair said there was about $4 left from rent to pay for maintenance.
But she said investing in Aboriginal organisations was a good investment.
They were not simply housing organisations, Ms Sinclair said, but provided holistic support to help people access other services they might need.
"While we might be deemed an Aboriginal community housing provider, we do so much more than that, not only for our tenants but for our employees," she said.
Dr Gilmour said Aboriginal community-controlled organisations were vital and appeared to be the best way to close the gap.
"Aboriginal people can look after our affairs better than non-Aboriginal can, just give us the resources to do so," Uncle Tom said.