Aboriginal housing policies must be based on community needs

The recently announced $250 million NSW budget boost for Aboriginal housing is much welcomed and long overdue.

In implementing this important new initiative, it is critical to consult Aboriginal communities about what culturally appropriate housing looks like. In the past, public housing policies have often been imposed on Aboriginal communities based on non-Aboriginal ideals of good housing.

Research findings show the social values of Aboriginal people differ significantly from non-Aboriginal values. Unfortunately, well-intentioned government policies too often ignore these crucial differences.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says everyone has the right to decent housing, which provides for their security, health and well-being.

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However, past policies have not done enough to ensure Aboriginal people have adequate housing — it continues to lag behind non-Aboriginal housing across Australia.

Barriers to housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

In 2020, the National Agreement on Closing the Gap included housing among its 16 key socio-economic targets to improve life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

However, the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute recently found closing the gap targets cannot be met without addressing the current lack of affordable and quality housing.

As it stands:

  • a much higher proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in overcrowded and public housing
  • only 42% own their own home compared with 65% of non-Indigenous households
  • housing shortages are predicted to increase to 90,901 dwellings across Australia by 2031, of which 65,000 are in NSW

However, the use of financial metrics (such as the amount of money spent on Aboriginal housing) to determine the success of Aborginal housing policies can sometimes present a deceiving and biased view of the impact they have on Aboriginal communities.

It is critical the success of any Aboriginal policy is measured in a way which reflects Aboriginal cultural connections to country and kinship. These measurements should not reflect non-Aboriginal values of individualism and materialism, which typically guide government assessments of success and failure.

This is why it was reassuring to hear NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet state:

This budget is not just about dollars; it is about our commitment to ensure funding is directed to the areas where it can make the most difference for Aboriginal communities across our state.

It remains to be seen, though, whether the NSW government has the tools and knowledge to assess and communicate the success of policies affecting Aboriginal people in this way.

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