AHURI researchers have developed a substantial body of research into housing issues for Indigenous Australians. This covers culturally-appropriate design, ways to achieve sustainable tenancies and facilitate home ownership, and the nature of mobility and its relationship to homelessness.
What factors support Indigenous households to maintain stable tenancies?
- Sustainable housing for remote Indigenous Australians needs to include culturally appropriate design, environmental efficiency, housing layouts which encourage healthy living, training and employment for the housing sector workforce, full costing of projects across their life cycle, innovative construction, procurement and ownership arrangements — Project 30354 .
- Links to external services as well as tenancy support programs are crucial in ensuring stable tenancies and avoiding homelessness — Project 80372 .
- Adequate funding and resourcing of Indigenous housing providers would also assist in providing and maintaining the stock of housing required to support tenancies. The deficit in funding for Indigenous public and community housing is nine times more than for non-Indigenous housing on average. This deficit is even more acute in very remote areas. The deficit is largely due to poor quality, high maintenance housing stock — Project 30282 .
- The Indigenous community housing sector is very diverse. AHURI research found that overall those with a larger stock of houses tend to be more effective, as do those in urban and large centres compared to those in remote areas. Specialists in housing management did better than those running multiple types of services. Critical aspects of an organisations’ viability are: location, governance, human resource management and housing management — Project 80316 .
- Indigenous home rental patterns and ownership are affected by a number of influences. Entrenched poverty is the strongest influence, forcing many to rely on social housing. This effectively excludes them from home ownership. Conflict with social housing providers over household debt, maintenance, wait-listing and the degree of transparency of the housing agency to Indigenous people all affect the relationship they have with that agency — Project 80317 .
- Stable housing and tenancies for Indigenous women and their children are affected by high mobility and poor access to services. Support services which build their skills in financial management, urban living and accessing relevant information and services would help to break the cycle of unstable, substandard housing they experience. A culturally appropriate housing service which allows for the maintenance of tradition and housing which caters to fluctuating numbers of residents would also be of great benefit — Project 40158 .
Do Indigenous people aspire to and achieve home ownership?
- Compared to non-Indigenous Australians, fewer Indigenous people aspire to or achieve home ownership. This is likely to reflect their lower incomes. A previous history of home ownership in the family is more likely to pre-dispose younger generations to purchase a home — Project 80317 .
- Indigenous attitudes towards home ownership do not depend on whether they live on communal land. The social benefit of being able to pass property on to younger generations is the main motivation for investigating home ownership. And for some, the economic benefits of investing in property are not significant. Most Indigenous people entering home ownership would purchase a second-hand property, which may attract high additional costs for repairs and maintenance — Project 20501 .
What factors drive Indigenous mobility and homelessness? How do they differ?
- Kinship is the driving force behind Indigenous mobility in northern Australia. It defines broad regions of travel, provides accommodation for travellers and is maintained through mobility. The mobility of these communities requires a re-think of housing design to accommodate fluctuating numbers of residents. Patterns of mobility are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, so housing and other services should be planned and delivered in a way that assumes ongoing mobility — Project 20260 .
- Indigenous mobility, or visiting your relations, is a critical part of Indigenous culture and creates bonds which provide resilience in times of need, including during loss of housing. Culturally sanctioned visiting may result in short-term over-crowding but has a positive benefit for the community — Project 80368 .
- Homelessness, in contrast, is the major cause of Indigenous overcrowding. The over-crowding occurs because of strong kinship obligations, meaning housed kin will provide shelter to their family in need. Indigenous homelessness is concealed by over-crowding and if prolonged can become destructive or lead to the breakdown of the household — Project 80368 .
- Homelessness is experienced differently in the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. AHURI research finds that mainstream concepts of homelessness do not necessarily reflect Indigenous understandings and could be better redefined as losing one’s sense of control over, or legitimacy in, the place where one lives. The research identified the importance of spiritual homelessness resulting from a disconnection from traditional land or country — Project 20168 .
- Given the high mobility of the Indigenous population in many parts of Australia, a lack of permanent shelter is not per se an indication of homelessness. Rather, it is the loss of control over one’s life circumstances which creates and maintains homelessness and this is related to lack of access to suitable housing, substance misuse and violence — Project 80368 .
How can housing programs be used to encourage Indigenous community and economic development?
- Housing provides one of the few genuine opportunities for economic and community development in remote Indigenous communities. The chief means for achieving this are the construction, management and maintenance of housing, as well as related infrastructure and services — Project 80124 .
- An effective community consultation strategy to improve housing should recognise that the built environment in an Indigenous community is broader than just housing; cultural and individual domestic issues need to be considered as part of the context. Further, planning for housing in remote areas needs to move away from the concept that issues such as overcrowding can be solved by just adding more bedrooms. Climatic and topographical variations also need to be factored into improved delivery of appropriate built environments — Project 40184 .
You may also be interested in the activities of the AHURI Indigenous Housing and Homelessness Policy, Practice and Research Network.