Housing for Australia’s remote Aboriginal communities that creates livelihoods - especially for young people - will last longer and deliver a much better return on the public investment.
That’s the finding of a major study by Dr Kurt Seemann and a team from Desert Knowledge CRC, which suggests that the approach taken by governments to remote area housing over many years has contained the seeds of its own failure.
“Traditionally housing has been supplied to remote communities based on economic and technical considerations alone. Because it did not factor in the larger social and livelihood issues as well, this may be why housing policy has not been seen as a success either by the communities themselves or by the Australian public at large,” Dr Seemann says.
“Our central finding is that the social success of housing depends on how well the investment reaches into the very fabric of the community itself, not purely on its cost as something that provides shelter or health benefits.”
It has previously been estimated that current and future remote area housing will cost the taxpayer at least $3 billion – but many houses only last for 4-8 years on average, he notes. At present almost 40 per cent of remote housing requires major upgrade or replacement. An important goal is to extend the lifecycle of the remote housing stock.
Emphasis on cost has in the past led to the delivery of houses unsuited to local climatic and social requirements as well as access to minor maintenance resources to facilitate community desire to personalise their dwellings, Dr Seemann says. It also neglected larger needs, such as the importance of generating sustainable livelihoods for young Aboriginal people, and for raising their mastery of technology – known as technacy.
“At the moment there is a rush to supply new and better housing to remote communities. There is a risk that this housing will only deliver higher costs and reduced social benefits - unless it is better integrated into what remote communities want, need and can sustain under local conditions.” Lacking insights into these issues, much housing policy has been ‘flying blind’, he says.
“There has been a ‘conveyor belt’ mentality, in which housing created for the lowest cost ‘crashed’ off the end of the belt in communities. Little thought was given to best practice management of the asset in the longer term or to linking housing to community livelihoods.
“Instead of asking: how many houses can we get for the dollars, we should instead be asking: can we design a housing system that both lasts longer and creates sustainable livelihoods. Can we link these goals together?”
The DKCRC team suggests there should be an overhaul of the housing approach by State, Territory and Federal authorities.
They propose that the biggest thing that could be done to benefit both housing and communities is a focus on technacy, the ability to wield technology, for young Aboriginal people from as early as primary school, which would in turn foster local talent in innovation and engage them in locally relevant construction, repair management and design processes about their own future homes and buildings.
Investing in national technacy and innovation standards in education and linking housing resources to local conditions would foster regional livelihood opportunities and talent in leadership succession around essential aspects of technical services and solutions in the desert, they say.
The team proposes that the generation of livelihoods should be a central goal of all future housing approaches and that housing should be better designed and adapted to desert conditions and take into account the wishes and needs of individuals and communities.
Editor's Note: See the full report here.