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Issue #1731      May 18, 2016

Community control for Aboriginal housing

Two Indigenous organisations, Aboriginal Housing Northern Territory (AHNT) and Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT (APONT) are urging radical reform of the NT’s public housing system.

In spite of a commitment in 2008 of $2 billion over 10 years for NT housing, severe overcrowding and homelessness remain.

AHNT comprises Aboriginal organisations and individuals who want a new system that allows for community control of housing, local engagement and employment, more responsive repairs and maintenance and better tenancy management services. APONT comprises the Northern and Central Land councils, Aboriginal legal aid services and the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT.

AHNT and APONT have jointly made a submission to the NT Housing Strategy Consultation Draft which the government announced in June 2015. The Draft Strategy aims to review housing supply and assistance programs.

In March 2015 APONT hosted a Remote Aboriginal Housing Forum which brought together 150 people and identified many failures in the public housing system: inadequate supply, poor design and poor workmanship; poor maintenance, leading to unhealthy conditions; no employment opportunities for local people in construction or management; complex management arrangements which deliver poor service; and inappropriate and culturally insensitive tenancy process.

The AHNT/APONT submission to the Government’s Draft Strategy says Aboriginal people have been greatly disempowered as a result of new housing policies following the Howard government’s “Intervention” in 2007, which abolished Indigenous Community Housing Organisations and transferred community housing to the NT government. In spite of a commitment in 2008 of $2 billion over 10 years for NT housing, severe overcrowding and homelessness remain.

The submission notes that the NT has by far the largest housing shortfall relative to the total number of households – a shortfall of about 10,600 dwellings; and homelessness in the NT is 17 times higher than anywhere else in Australia.

The submission says that while the housing sector elsewhere has shifted to a diverse, community-based sector, Aboriginal housing in the NT has gone in the opposite direction: “Aboriginal housing in the NT has been moved wholesale to government control. The success of a community housing approach will depend on the Department of Housing being prepared to transfer management of state-owned public housing for Aboriginal people to Aboriginal control:

“Special purpose Aboriginal housing organisations with skilled governance, sound financial planning and management and staffed by trained housing professionals can be part of the growing community housing sector across Australia. Aboriginal housing organisations are best placed to have strong partnerships with local communities and Traditional Owners and work across regions that are geographically and culturally connected.

“Government regulation of community housing is essential, but we want to see a commitment by the NT government to empower organisations to deliver a model of community housing management rather than the bureaucratic and culturally irrelevant public housing model that now exists.”

AHNT/APONT wants the government’s Draft Strategy to address housing problems on homelands: “If homelands receive reduced services or close down, then people may move to the fringes of communities or towns where there are already housing shortages. Homelands have been excluded from the whole new housing framework and as a consequence are not receiving sufficient funding or adequate levels of service. Houses on homelands are up to 30 years old and in disrepair; there is no funding to build new houses.”

After AHNT met in Katherine in March, Co-Chair Barb Shaw drew attention to the “appalling” state of Aboriginal housing in Elliott – “the forgotten town”.

“A one-off payment of $3 million from the NT government is going to Elliott, which is welcomed, but is unlikely to fix the systemic problems plaguing Aboriginal housing in Elliott and other Aboriginal communities, outstations and town camps.

“Housing is at a devastating point in the Northern Territory,” Shaw said. “Housing is the foundation of health and education. How can we achieve quality education when our children don’t have a house, or somewhere safe to sleep?”

Land Rights News – Northern Edition

Next article – Land council anger over benefits fund

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