Creating culturally sensitive housing for remote Indigenous communities

The design of Indigenous housing should be compatible with cultural norms and practices

Last updated 2 August 2018

State and commonwealth proposals to build new housing for indigenous families in remote regions should consider the style and design of housing that will best support those families. Providing appropriate social housing for disadvantaged Indigenous Australians in remote areas requires an understanding of the cultural norms and practices of those households.

At times, cultural customs can come into conflict with rules and requirements set by state and territory housing authorities. For example, social housing households that practice ‘demand sharing’ can be deemed to be overcrowded and can lead to householders being evicted due to insufficient rent being paid for the number of people living in the house, excessive wear-and-tear damage caused to buildings and complaints about excessive noise.

…standardised planning and housing is not necessarily suitable or appropriate for the diverse cultural, gender, age and extended family structures evident in Aboriginal communities

AHURI research found that government funded social housing providers typically consider the appropriateness of their social housing in terms of what is required and preferred for a non-Indigenous nuclear family, and that ‘…standardised planning and housing is not necessarily suitable or appropriate for the diverse cultural, gender, age and extended family structures evident in Aboriginal communities’.

Understandably, state and territory housing authorities see providing standardised housing as a way to give all tenants equality in housing while maximising the number of houses built for a limited budget. However research shows that a ‘one size fits all’ approach ‘is one of the principle factors in the ongoing failure of governments and agencies in the provision of appropriate housing for Indigenous Australians’.

Indigenous cultural customs that can affect housing needs include:

  • changing household numbers in relation to extended family transitions between houses and communities often result in overcrowding
  • close proximity of houses or the lack of traditional separation can lead to aggravations between family, language, age and/or gender groups
  • avoidance behaviours related to kinship rules
  • different values and attitudes about the possession and sharing of objects
  • cultural responses to the death of a householder.

To provide the best social housing for Indigenous households, it is important to create housing that is compatible with cultural practices. As a result, principles for new housing in Indigenous communities may include:

  • houses that can expand to cope with many visitors (such as during special events such as funerals etc.) including having enough toilets and sufficient kitchen and storage space
  • sufficient space between houses so there is privacy for each house’s backyard
  • place for outdoor cooking
  • sufficient shading and insulation (many houses are reported as being unlivable in extreme temperature conditions)
  • houses aligned to local weather patterns and sun, rather than just to the street, to help cool and warm the house
  • potential for disability support (e.g. hallways and bathrooms that can fit a wheelchair)
  • quiet places for children to study and sleep away from areas where adults socialise.