The current stated policy aim of all Australian governments – reduce overcrowding in Indigenous housing.
The following is quoted from the FaHCSIA website.
“Improving housing conditions is essential to achieving improvements in Indigenous health, education and employment to help close the gap in life outcomes between Indigenous and other Australians.
Under the National Indigenous Reform Agreement, ‘Healthy Homes’ is one of seven inter-connected ‘building blocks’ — or priority action areas — that underpin the Closing the Gap strategy agreed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).
The Australian Government has committed $5.5 billion over ten years to 2018 under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing:
- significant overcrowding
- poor housing conditions
- the severe housing shortage in remote Indigenous communities.”
The policy aims may be good, and there is a lot of money promised BUT the current implementation, nationally, is poor and the chances of reducing overcrowding are very, very small.
Building new houses alone will NOT reduce overcrowding ……..if this sounds impossible then read on because we believe this is a BIG ISSUE.
Overcrowding effects on housing and health
The National Indigenous Housing Guide (NIHG) is endorsed by Australian Federal and State Governments and is a key compliance document for the National Indigenous Housing program. One of the nine Healthy Living Practises is “Reducing the impacts of overcrowding” where some of the health risks of overcrowding are outlined alongside effective strategies for reducing the negative impacts of health through housing.
Crowded living conditions increase the risk of the spread of infectious diseases, such as meningococcal disease, rheumatic fever, tuberculosis and respiratory infections. In a crowded house it can also be more difficult to access health hardware, such as hot water, showers and clothes washing facilities. To reduce these risks, consider how to minimise the effects of crowding when planning the living environment.
Beware estimating house population by dividing population by house numbers because this could mean that houses will not be designed to have sufficient space and health hardware, and the residents will experience increased health risks.
It is also possible that specific parts of a house can become crowded at particular times. For example, in extreme climatic conditions, all members of the household are likely to congregate in the one room of the house that is able to be cooled or heated and this can lead to the increased spread of infection, even in small households.
Even if all houses in a community are fully functional, some families will choose to live in large, multi-generational households, despite other houses being available in the community. These families will not necessarily consider their house to be crowded, but could suffer health effects if the health hardware is not adequate for the number of people living in the house. A large household population can also cause health hardware to fail prematurely simply because it is constantly in use. Large populations may also result in high power bills for the main residents unless energy efficiency has been considered in house design and specification.
More houses can reduce the negative impacts of over-crowding, however, the example above shows that it is also necessary to design for peak populations. This can be achieved by providing more health hardware in houses, developing the yard and edges of houses to provide more household service, cooling and heating several rooms in the house, providing additional sleeping areas, and ensuring the health hardware in most houses in a community is functioning most of the time through regular maintenance.
Consider the following options as solutions to overcrowding, the common reactive solution of building more houses will reduce overcrowding as opposed to a mixed solution which focuses on sustainable solutions.
Does building more houses effectively reduce overcrowding?
Community A has 20 houses and 120 people live in the community
This gives a crowding level of 6 people per house
Assume a new small house around 130 sq.m (current average size of an Indigenous house about half the size of the average non-indigenous house) can be built for $3,000 /sq.m = $400,000 approx per house + on costs = $450,000
5 houses are built in the community and there are now 25 houses with the same 120 people using the houses.
The improved assumed crowding rate is reduced to
4.8 people per house (120 people / 25 houses). With a total capital cost for the 5 houses of $ 2.25m (including all costs)
Crowding levels have been reduced and the national policy targets have been met…right?
House function is what delivers benefits to the resident. The NIHG highest health priority is: The ability to wash.
This example will use this priority to assess overcrowding.
If the 20 original houses were tested we would find that only 35% of the houses had a functioning shower to serve a total population of 120 people (from HfH national data).
That means only 7 houses have a working shower to serve the total population.
This means a functional crowding level of 17 people per house to have a shower.
Of the 5 new houses, at least 1 will have no function due to poor initial construction (from HfH national data)