The Guide and the future?
Big issue # 3 : Where is the 4th edition of the National Indigenous Housing Guide?
The National Indigenous Housing Guide is a resource to assist in the design, construction and maintenance of housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, with a particular focus on providing and maintaining the health hardware that supports a safe and healthy living environment.
All organisations providing Indigenous-specific housing services are to be assessed against standards for governance and service delivery. The standards reflect current best practice of organisations providing social housing, along with the specific circumstances of Indigenous clients. They are consistent with the approach of comparable standards such as the National Community Housing Standards. The standards will provide a benchmark for continuous improvement in the provision of high quality housing services to Indigenous people.
This guide provides practical information on the design, selection, installation, construction, renovation and maintenance of housing health hardware and other aspects related to environmental health, for example dealing with dust, insects and dogs. It is a resource for everybody involved in providing housing to Indigenous people, including community councils, Indigenous housing workers, council staff, architects, project managers, tradespeople and government officials. If used in tandem with local knowledge, the guide can help to improve housing and health outcomes, and community development projects.
Information in the guide is based on the experience of communities, housing design consultants and builders, and is supported by data from housing surveys conducted since the mid-1980s. The information is also supported by research and technical standards and cleared by state and territory governments.
To make sure it remains useful and relevant, the guide will be assessed and updated again in 2009. As part of this process, the Australian Government will host an internet forum and invite comments and suggestions for improvements to the guide. Details of the web address are available at http://www.facs.gov.au/sa/indigenous/progserv/housing/Documents/default.htm
The National Indigenous Housing Guide (the Guide):
- has been around for 12 years and the current 3rd edition was released in 2007
- has been endorsed by all Australian governments
- is based on evidence from over 3,500 Indigenous houses around Australia collected in Housing for Health projects managed by Healthabitat
- would be reviewed and reprinted every 2 years, under the initial agreement made by the federal government in 1999.
The 3rd edition of the Guide is now two years out of date. Where is the 4th edition that was due out in 2009?
During Healthabitat’s (HH) last federal government contract (2009-2011) we were repeatedly told that the Guide was a high priority and that it would remain a key compliance document used by the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.
At a 2011 meeting with FaHCSIA to consider the production of the 4th edition, they raised one issue. The Guide was too thick. Literally the thickness of the Guide was a big issue. FaHCSIA offered a solution – leave out the housing data contained in each section. The data was too complex and not seen to be relevant to the content of the Guide.
Lets assess this creative editing idea.
Historically the 1st edition of the Guide contained NO data. There were not enough houses surveyed nationally (under the Fixing Houses for Better Health 1 program) to provide a reasonable national sample of data.
By the 3rd edition, the Guide contained data from over 3,500 houses nationally.
Far from being window dressing, the content of the Guide is determined by the survey testing results from the real houses and this is represented by the detailed data.
Let’s think for a moment about what the data represents.
Each house has 250 items checked and tested. The items are then combined to provide information on around the 300 safety and health function parts each house.
Currently over 7,300 houses have been checked and tested nationally. This represents more than double the data contained in the current 3rd edition.
Over 2 million items of information about the real performance of Indigenous housing, have been collected in a standard, consistent form. This information has already been used to fix the houses and then inform better housing designs, construction and maintenance.
No state or federal government has ever collected this quantity or quality of data on Indigenous housing. The data was collected by well-trained teams made up of over 75% local Indigenous people. The process has been audited and independently reviewed and the data confirmed to be of high quality.
So what is the problem with producing the 4th edition of the Guide?
We guess the Guide has become an inconvenient truth.
The Guide can be used to measure the housing being designed and upgraded under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing. The HH testing of new and upgraded houses in 4 states of Australia over the last year, after big money has been spent on the houses, shows that the houses repeatedly fail many of the Guide's assessment criteria.
You pick the course of action that should be followed –
1. do not update the Guide and allow it to become ‘out dated’ and fade away or,
2. revise the Guide into a data-less, toothless tome with less ‘ensures’ and more ‘if you likes’ when it comes to design or specification or,
3. review the 3rd edition and improve the overdue 4th edition of the Guide and, concurrently
4. put in place detailed document assessment and building inspection measures, based on the Guide, to ensure Indigenous housing provides safety and health function.
Lets wait and see which way the thinking goes.
As Healthabitat helped write the first edition and was involved in the updating of editions 2 and 3, we think this is a BIG ISSUE.