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Housing for Health – aims

Housing for Health projects aim to improve the health of people, particularly children 0-5 years of age, by ensuring they have access to safe and well functioning housing, and an improved living environment.

The work is based on safety and the nine Healthy Living Practices. These Healthy Living Practices, and their order of priority, were developed in 1985 to describe the functioning hardware needed in a house to allow access to healthy living. “Health hardware” is a term to describe the physical equipment needed to give people access to the health giving services of housing. For example, to wash a young child the “health hardware” needed may include a water supply, pumps, tanks, pipes, valves, taps, hot water system, tub and drainage pipes.

Key features

A carefully prescribed methodology

Hf H Image1Housing for Health projects use a carefully prescribed methodology for testing and checking house safety and health function in an agreed order of priority. One part of the method involves surveying and testing over 250 items in every house. 

The methodology uses the prioritised safety and health goals to prescribe immediate, and longer term, fix work.

The methodology combines before and after house condition survey and testing, use of a field database, a safety and health priority, immediate fix work, data collection, local team training and employment, and tools development.

The methodology has been licensed, using a noncommercial licence, to ensure that the principles of the Housing for Health are adhered to and the communities involved receive a successful project.

Immediate improvement

Hf H Image2On the first day of any project the tools, materials and skilled people are available to commence urgent fix work on houses as identified by the survey/testing method.

Rather than receiving a report on housing faults, the residents see an immediate improvement in the function of their houses and this builds trust allowing more complex and time consuming work to continue.

All fix work is prioritised according to the nine Healthy Living Practices, with life threatening safety having overarching priority.

The ‘on-site’ Housing for Health database

Hf H Image3The database was designed to capture the results of the testing and checking of house health function

Data used to monitor house improvement

Hf H Image4We use data from before and after fix work surveys to test house function and ensure the improvement of each house.

It is easy to spend money but not so easy to improve the function of houses. Without a repeat of the initial, thorough 250 point survey / test process at the completion of a project, actual function gains could not be guaranteed. This applies particularly to the Critical Healthy Living Practices, where all the component parts of the service must function to achieve a positive score for the house. For example, 6 out of 7 parts of the shower working will still lead to a failed shower function score for the house.

Data used to improve new house design

Hf H Image5We also use data generated by Housing for Health projects to improve the design of new houses.

Housing for Health data has been published in the National Indigenous Housing Guide (the Guide), to highlight common failures in housing for designers and housing managers to improve the design, specification, construction and maintenance of houses. Developed in 1999 and now in its 3rd edition, the Guide is endorsed by all Australian governments: state, territory and federal. The Guide is available free on line (see web address) or in hard copy form.

The data is also regularly updated and made available by Healthabitat to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (a Federal Government agency) which places the data online for use, at no charge, by registered housing and health researchers.

Applied research and development projects

Hf H Image6Healthabitat has initiated a broad range of applied, practical research projects to improve housing. Areas of applied research and development over the last 10 years include:

  • tap ware improvement,
  • hot water systems performance improvement,
  • waste water disposal systems,
  • lighting design to reduce energy and improve life,
  • kitchen design to improve function and nutrition,
  • prefabricated transportable shower/laundry/toilet modules for new and existing houses,
  • prefabricated transportable kitchen modules for new and existing houses,
  • local Indigenous staff training aids,
  • customised database and information systems to use the collected Housing for Health data,
  • water use monitoring leading to local community teams fixing leaks and significant water savings (for more details see Section 5D), and
  • improving the internal temperature of existing houses using simple, low energy devices and materials.

Engaging local Indigenous people in all aspects of the works

Hf H Image7The effort required to achieve Indigenous employment and engagement is rarely understood by government agencies and bureaucrats. Healthabitat has consistently looked at ways to engage, encourage and make the work environment safe so that local Indigenous people are actively involved in all aspects of the work.

Techniques that have proven successful have included:

  • Refining the survey process into simple to complete test sheets for recording data. Retaining paper based survey sheets, rather than hand held electronic data capture devices, has enabled more local participation. Local teams are encouraged to work in pairs; the person with better literacy skill recording information on the sheets and, the other, with lesser literacy skill performing the tests on the house.
  • Providing lunches during the days work, usually prepared by the local community. This improves the nutrition of the teams and often builds small, sustainable catering teams and businesses within the community.
  • Fabricating training boards to enable local resident team members to learn the survey and fix process, build self esteem and complete occupational health and safety training.
  • Making detailed training manuals, posters and visual aids to explain parts of the house to the local team members.
  • Having jobs for men and women of all ages is important. For senior respected community elders, liaison with families about the aims of the project and what will happen in their houses is useful; for younger to middle aged men and women, survey / testing work; for younger skilled men and women, the fix work; for younger women, the data entry work; for local community groups, the lunch making; and younger men, the heavier work of trade assisting.

About Housing for Health 

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Paul Pholeros on how Housing for Health focuses on improving the living environments of the poor, understanding that environment plays a key and often overlooked role in health.



Brian Doolan – CEO The Fred Hollows Foundation - speaks about the history and importance of “health hardware”



Hf H The Guide Thumbnail