VOX POPS: Are we getting better at servicing the housing needs of Aboriginal people and communities? What’s changed in 20 years?

Shane Hamilton, Chief Executive Officer @ Aboriginal Housing Office
“The only way we can ensure better housing outcomes for Aboriginal people is when Aboriginal people are at the centre of the design, as well as the decision-making process on what services are needed and how they should be delivered. This is why we need local sustainable Aboriginal community housing providers delivering the services with Aboriginal people. Only then can we be reassured that culturally appropriate services get provided, and Aboriginal people are given equal access and choice in their housing requirements.”

Greg Kitson, Project Manager @ various (works as a contractor)
“In Queensland, Indigenous Community Housing Organisations (ICHOs) are struggling with a poorly coordinated over-burden of regulation from multiple government agencies; un-coordinated, regional-focused procurement strategies for repairs and maintenance, a state-legislated rent policy that increases organisational financial stress and impacts strategic asset management and tenant satisfaction; poor levels of engagement by governments; predatory practices from third party contractors, and funding frameworks that scarcely consider regional economics.”

“All this increases the risk of ICHOs losing their enterprise and community identity to full government control, and may remove choice from the housing continuum.”

Alice Clark, Executive Director @ Shelter SA
“In a word, no… Shelter SA held a workshop for more than 50 South Australians to discuss ‘what works’ and ‘what we need more of’ to house and support Aboriginal people during times of transition. Leaving institutional care and returning to family and community can be a risky time because people cease being ‘clients’ and, therefore, the responsibility of a service provider or government system, and they can fall through the gaps. If discharge planning, housing and support are inadequate, this time can be perilous.”

“The key policy messages coming from the workshop participants are that we need to create a workforce development strategy, and targets to employ and develop more Aboriginal workers in the community services and housing sectors; embed cultural competency in policy and service delivery; create an Aboriginal community housing organisation; and urgently increase the supply of social housing.”

Steve Bevington, Managing Director @ Community Housing Limited Group
“Most jurisdictions are certainly trying. The basic challenge in responding to this question lies in the fact that housing management reforms, heightened since the advent of the Northern Territory Intervention and National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing (NPARIH), have generally been initiated unilaterally by individual jurisdictions. A number can be distinguished as attempting to bring Aboriginal housing into contractually based operational delivery systems incorporating public housing tenure rather than strengthening culturally sensitive local management. Some of these changes have been positive but many have not advanced housing conditions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.”

“Progress is evident in some quarters – introduction of transitional housing into regional towns in Western Australia has provided positive outcomes; the existence of the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office intent on assisting self-determination through local management and improved housing options; and the establishment of Aboriginal Housing Victoria, a state-based Aboriginal housing association. While NPARIH led to regularising systems under residential tenancy legislation improving accountability and management of communities, the introduction of public housing tenure has had numerous challenges including tenancy arrangements that are not culturally sensitive and do not support local self-determination and service delivery.”

“Community Housing Limited (CHL) has established a national Aboriginal-owned entity that is seeking to facilitate locally produced affordable housing; culturally sensitive management and service delivery; and employment, training and community development to improve the sustainability of remote and regional Aboriginal communities.”

Daphne Habibis, Associate Professor, Housing and Community Research Unit @ University of Tasmania; Peter Phibbs, Professor, Director, Henry Halloran Trust @ University of Sydney
“In the last two decades, Commonwealth and state/territory governments have made some inroads in addressing the effects of earlier decades of policy neglect that characterised the field of Aboriginal housing.”
“Management of housing by Aboriginal people in NSW and Victoria has moved forward while, in remote communities, government investment has improved housing management and reduced crowding – in some locations. However, increases in house prices and rents, the decline in public housing stock, and increasingly punitive management approaches are placing many Aboriginal households in jeopardy. Nationally, the amount of housing stock managed by Aboriginal people has fallen significantly.”
“Looking forward, a key issue is how to meet Aboriginal aspirations to manage their own housing, including developing innovative ways of using land rights to support better housing outcomes. The most critical need is for governments – especially the Commonwealth – to develop a long-term policy position on Aboriginal housing, rather than continuing the policy back-flips and ‘passing the buck’ that characterised the field in the past. This includes current concerns that the Commonwealth will no longer invest in improving housing in
remote communities, with a real risk that the gains from the last 10 years will be lost.”