The Remote Housing Review: Maintenance Programs - how can they stop people getting sick?

Healthabitat survey fix

In November, HH published its initial views on the the Review.  HH again calls on the government to immediately implement the Key Recommendations of the Review, in particular;

Recommendation: A recurrent program must be funded to maintain existing houses, preserve functionality and increase the life of housing assets

Recommendation: Regional sample surveys (using the survey– and–fix methodology of the Fixing Houses for Better Health program) must form a core part of the regional governance and monitoring strategy

In our last article, HH discussed the Review’s findings on the impact of housing on health, focussing on overcrowding. In this article HH will discuss the Review’s discussion about how maintenance programs can stop people getting sick, focussing on cyclical maintenance and the survey–and–fix methodology.

What happens when maintenance does not occur?

As noted in November’s article, the Review stated that houses that are not maintained fall out of commission quickly and do not provide their basic function of supporting the health and wellbeing of tenants, especially where overcrowding is present. (5.7). In particular, the Review found:

The implementation of [Property and Tenancy Management] is critical. It cannot be considered secondary to addressing overcrowding with new houses. Without maintenance, new houses will not last and overcrowding will not be reduced.

Property management needs to prioritise the monitoring and maintenance of the health functioning of homes. A cyclical maintenance program is essential to reducing costs and increasing the life of houses.
[emphasis added]

The problem with reactive maintenance programs

The Review found that reactive maintenance programs, that rely on the tenant notifying the landlord or repairs needed, are costly and can result in long delays. This is because:

  • it is often unclear to tenants who is responsible for the maintenance of their homes due to the absence of formal tenancy agreements and the frequent change in what organisation or government has responsibility for this role;
  • communication systems in remote locations cannot be relied on;
  • wet seasons can cut communities off from services for months at a time so there will be periods when maintenance cannot occur; and
  • the costs of performing once off, reactive maintenance are much higher than planned, bulk maintenance due to high travel costs to remote areas.

What should a maintenance program look like?

Having recognised the importance of maintenance to reduce overcrowding and improve health and the inefficacy of reactive maintenance programs, the Review stated that a maintenance program should be cyclical and employ the survey-fix methodology.

The Review noted that proactive maintenance that is carried out at regular intervals ensures that people can use their homes as intended. While each state or territory has some form of maintenance program in place, the Review state that “Cyclical maintenance programs must be developed more consistently across the program.”

Importantly, the Review recommended that there be a requirement for regional sample surveys using the survey-and-fix methodology of the Fixing Houses for Better Health program;

The long-term cost of property management is decreased by having a cyclical maintenance program in place. Data from the surveys would enable the governance structure to make sound and evidence based policy decisions about delivery of the program and to develop long-term plans for additional construction, conduct repairs, and establish a recurrent and proactive maintenance program. P78

That is, a program that surveys the health hardware of homes, fixes small items and requires a qualified tradesperson to return to fix major faults. Sound familiar?