Service integration and Indigenous housing


This study sought to understand appropriate models of service provision in social housing for Indigenous Australians. It found that the problems of Indigenous tenancy failure and dissatisfaction with social housing might be addressed through more localised, adaptive, and flexible approaches to service delivery, as well as Indigenous and non-Indigenous housing organisations adopting a more cross-cultural approach to developing relationships, sharing knowledge, and collaboration. This project builds on a previous AHURI study Social housing diversity and integration (Project 20336).

Project Number: 70569
Research Theme(s): Indigenous housing
Project Leader: Milligan, Vivienne
Funding Year: 2009
Research Centre: UNSW-UWS


Three in ten Indigenous households live in social housing and around 80 per cent of these tenancies are in towns and cities. The vast majority of social housing services to Indigenous clients are provided by state housing authorities, supplemented by a small contribution from specialist Indigenous-run housing organisations and community housing providers. Despite the high representation of Indigenous people in social housing, Indigenous tenants experience higher rates of dissatisfaction and tenancy failure than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

This study sought to understand appropriate models of service provision in social housing for Indigenous Australians and in particular the respective roles and connexions between mainstream and specialised housing agencies in urbanised settings in cities and regions. The study was based on a workshop with Indigenous housing workers from five jurisdictions and case studies involving interviews and focus groups with community leaders across sites in Dubbo (NSW), Townsville (Qld) and Dandenong (Vic).

The research suggested that service delivery approaches more likely to be successful for Indigenous clients involved face-to-face and personalised communication, flexible interpretation of policy, investment in relationship building and understanding of local cultural norms and lifestyles. These were at odds with current trends in mainstream service delivery that emphasise depersonalised (e.g. electronic) means of communication, reduced autonomy for front-line staff and standardisation of policies. It found there were particular problems faced by Indigenous people including inappropriate housing allocations, rent setting policies that were complex and confusing, and instances where objectives of policies appeared to be contradictory. The social housing system was not responsive to Indigenous peoples’ cultural needs such as accommodating long stay visitors.

Effective policy responses will require giving Indigenous communities a stronger voice in policy formulation and service planning. However, there was need to explore ‘intercultural’ approaches that involved both Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations, use of adaptive policies and localised capacity. This may involve strengthening Indigenous run services, employing more indigenous staff in leadership roles within the mainstream service system, clarifying outcomes sought for Indigenous clients (e.g. around successful tenancies) and strengthening accountability frameworks for both mainstream and indigenous run service providers.

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