Why We Need Better Housing In Remote Communities

The Room to Breathe project is about making additions and alterations to existing houses in remote communities, in an effort to relieve some of the overcrowding and associated stresses on these households.  The urgent need to do this has been explained by many good people over many years, its been written about in many well researched reports and papers, and is something our nation overwhelmingly supports should happen.  For the people living in substandard and overcrowded houses in remote communities, we need to have the conversations to make these houses much better places to live.  Some of what others have said about the relationship between remote housing, health and community follows…

"Housing is a key determinant of health and safety and is critical to success in Closing the Gap” - Senator Pat Dodson

“If a house is appropriately designed for the number of residents and adequately maintained, the bathroom, and adequate kitchen and laundry facilities make it easier to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and to encourage good environmental health.” - Productivity Commission for the Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision

“High levels of overcrowding and poor housing condition negatively impact on outcomes in health, education, employment and safety.” - Remote Housing Review

“Crowding and inadequate housing are linked to poor physical and mental health. They result in higher rates of infectious diseases such as rheumatic fever and eye and ear infections, emotional stress and conflict in the home.” - Daphne Habibis, Peter Phibbs, Rhonda Phillips: The Conversation

“Overcrowding prejudices the chances of head tenants and heads of families to maintain a home routine and a calm, clean, healthy and safe environment for family members.” - Remote Housing Review, 2017

“Good quality housing design and construction is important to increase the durability of houses and reduce the whole of life costs of housing.” - Remote Housing Review, 2017

“Indigenous Australian domiciliary patterns do not conform to Anglo-Australian house types and, furthermore, are as varied as the user groups […] there is no single correct architectural prototype for Indigenous housing.  Rather, it has been found that people should be at the centre of their housing process.” - Narelle Yabuka, ArchitectureAU

“Aboriginal Housing NT has been calling for culturally designed housing and community controlled housing models, which take into account the specific needs of communities, town camps and outstations.” - Felicity James, ABC News

“You don't live in our homes, you do not live in our communities, you do not live in our homelands and you do not live in our town camps […] Aboriginal people have always had the solutions to their own problems, but we are just not getting listened to.” - Aboriginal Housing NT co-chair Barbara Shaw

“This Government is about supporting people where they live and we're about supporting people in terms of the opportunities they engage with.” - NT Housing Minister Gerry McCarthy speaking about the future of Town Camps

“Aboriginal people are not an ongoing problem to be resolved, they are part of the solution. They are currently one of the foundation stones of the economy, but it is an economy in which they have little power, except as consumers.” - Living on the Edge: Northern Territory Town Camps review

"To ensure we stop “innovating” in this space, we must go back to what we know works, to the evidence-based solutions of better housing for health. We must ensure that design processes are co-designed within the affected community, allowing enough time for genuine and effective consultation.” - Kieran Wong, The Conversation

“We cannot afford to “innovate” in this space, with novel designs or construction techniques that satisfy a short-term need. When the Commonwealth commits to another long-term national funding program for Indigenous housing – and it must – it should draw on the wealth of existing research, evidence, design guidance and project experience. Importantly, the use of an updated National Indigenous Housing Guide must be mandated in law to ensure the very best housing responses are delivered for our nation’s First Peoples.” - Kieran Wong, The Conversation

“Avoiding prescription and temporarily sidelining many of the concerns of housing ‘hardware’ (such as materials or construction solutions), Iredale Pedersen Hook embedded their initial consultation firmly in the realm of housing ‘software’ – ties to land, patterns of spatial use, family relationships and genealogies, and cultural and spiritual beliefs.” - Narelle Yabuka, ArchitectureAU

“The project brief [for remote Aboriginal housing] required that a number of culturally specific design features be incorporated to suit remote Aboriginal lifestyles. In keeping with progressive design philosophy for remote Aboriginal housing, the house yards were to be treated as 'living rooms’ to accommodate an externally oriented lifestyle and influxes of long and short-stay visitors. The issue of visitors, and the stress which fluctuating occupant numbers can exert on household ablution facilities, was of significant concern to Council members. Therefore any such additional facilities had to be accessible from the external ‘living rooms’. Another related Council concern was that adequately sized and oriented verandahs be incorporated into the designs. Sightlines are also culturally significant and were to be considered by the architects. Internal living areas were to have a plan depth, openness of arrangement, and connection to verandahs that would facilitate surveillance of external spaces and approaches, while ensuring visual access could not be gained to bedrooms and ablution rooms. Kitchen facilities were also to be consistent with lifestyles in remote Aboriginal communities, with respect to both their general fitting out and the relationship between internal kitchens and outdoor cooking areas.”Paul Memmott, Remote Prototype, Architecture Australia – May 2001 (Vol 90 No 3)

“The Panel also notes that engagement needs to be balanced against costs and the quality of delivery. In past practice there were examples of gross inefficiencies. For example through the Indigenous Housing Authority of the Northern Territory [1995-2005], consultations with local communities resulted in some 27 different housing designs that became too expensive to build.”Remote Housing Review, 2017

“An alternative method of community consultation was used in the town of Normanton. Match stick models were used in consultations to simply demonstrate the housing design. Community members could easily see what houses would look like. They were able to readily move fittings within the house, adapting it to community needs and wants. This method of conducting design consultation turned out to be extremely effective. Community members felt they were more engaged in the process and had input into the project. This method also sped up consultations which reduced costs in the long-term.” - Remote Housing Review, 2017

"The term 'camp' is used throughout Indigenous Australia in a polysemous manner to describe a number of potential elements: the fire or hearth; an individual domestic living area; the shelter or dwelling of a family group; or even the total geographic and social space used by a group of individuals and their families. The undifferentiated use of the term reflects the different notions of public and private space within the living environment, which still exist to a large degree today. There is no evidence that shelter building itself followed any ritual blueprint. Rather it is the location of the camp or shelter, and more particularly the location of the fire or hearth and its relationship to the mythological and physical landscape, that carries the symbolic meaning to a community's settlement pattern." - Wigley, J., & Wigley, B. (2003). Remote Conundrums: The Changing Role of Housing in Aboriginal Communities. In P. Memmott (Ed.), Take2: Housing Design in Indigenous Australia (pp. 18–25). Red Hill: Royal Australian Institute of Architects. p22

"In many contemporary Indigenous Australian settlements, the customary types of households continue, but more complex ones have also emerged because of the cultural change effected in domestic economics and social authority structures. In many cases we find several customary family units occupying a single house, each residing in a separate bedroom. Houses therefore do not necessarily correlate with single family units in contemporary Indigenous societies. In contrast to the national trend, in which increasing proportions of households are being made up of single persons and childless couples, Indigenous households tend to be larger and more complex, often including a number of family sub-groups." - Memmott, P. (2003). Customary Aboriginal Behaviour Patterns and Housing Design. In P. Memmott (Ed.), Take2: Housing Design in Indigenous Australia (pp. 26–39). Red Hill: Royal Australian Institute of Architects. p30