REPORT/ RESEARCH: Evaluation into the current NT Healthy Homes project published
The final Monitoring and Evaluation report into the current Healthy Homes project in the NT, of which the licensed Housing for Health methodology formed a part, has been released.
The work is published by Menzies School of Health Research (prepared by Liam Grealy) – click here to read the report.
Overview, Aim & HH’s part
The Healthy Homes project is jointly funded through the National Partnership for Remote Housing Northern Territory and the NT Government’s Remote Housing Investment Package. Its delivery is overseen by a Joint Steering Committee including government and land council representatives.
The ‘Healthy Homes’ program is one part of the Northern Territory (NT) Government’s ‘Our Community. Our Future. Our Homes’ remote housing investment package. It is framed as a new approach to housing maintenance that incorporates cyclical and preventive approaches and prioritises supporting residents to undertake ‘healthy living practices’.
Healthabitat was originally contracted by the NTG to deliver HFH projects to the value of approximately $2m per annum until 9 March 2023. Plans to continue this arrangement until 30 June 2027 were evident in a departmental memorandum and within a schedule of projects lasting until that date.
Having commenced in 2021, the program applies to 73 NT remote communities, Alice Springs town camps, and Tennant Creek community living areas.
The Healthy Homes Monitoring and Evaluation Project aims to examine the implementation of Healthy Homes across a two-year period, including its administration and outputs.
Some Key Findings
The report discusses many aspects of the program and its findings. Key findings in the report include:
- The NT Government is responsible for about 5498 houses across 73 remote communities, Alice Springs town camps, and Tennant Creek community living areas. Following the commencement of ‘Our Community. Our Future. Our Homes’, the proportion of those houses that was overcrowded in December 2017 was 55 %. Five years later, at December 2022, this proportion was still 52.9 % and should be compared with the aspiration of Closing the Gap target 9a which aims to ‘increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in appropriately sized (not overcrowded) housing to 88 per cent’ by 2031.
- In the month of March 2023, there were 3,329 active applicants on the wait list for remote community housing, with 34 households assisted into new housing (and 17 households transferred from an existing tenancy into alternate remote public housing). The average wait time for those 34 households allocated new housing in March 2023 was 40 months.
- Under ‘Our Community. Our Future. Our Homes’ (OCOFOH), $35 million is budgeted per annum for remote community housing repairs and maintenance. In 2022, the first full calendar year of Healthy Homes, expenditure data indicates total expenditure under active remote housing maintenance services contracts was $43.12m, including expenditure on government employee housing. Average expenditure for remote community public housing in 2022 was approximately $6000 per house.
- The key achievement of Healthy Homes has been the award of contracts to Aboriginal Business Enterprises (ABEs). 31 contracts for housing maintenance services were awarded to 22 companies, including 25 contracts to 17 ABEs. These contracts cover 49 remote communities, Alice Springs Town Camps, and Tennant Creek Community Living Areas.
- The condition of remote housing does not appear to be well-documented by government. There is limited and inconsistent data about the functionality of health hardware and maintenance works undertaken at house level.
- There is potential for further consolidation of the HFH principles and approach into core housing business, including through the participation of TFHC, DIPL, and Department of Health staff in HFH survey-fix work.
HH’s role in ‘Healthy Homes’
Chapter 5 of the report focuses on Healthabitat’s licensed methodology of work ‘Housing for Health’. It discusses project expenditure and employment data for the various projects, details of the contract, and barriers faced at the time of the report being written.
The award to Healthabitat of the tender for the Housing for Health projects followed a pilot project undertaken at Jilkminggan, a remote community in the Big Rivers region, to assess the condition of 33 premises. Healthabitat was originally contracted by the NTG to deliver HFH projects to the value of approximately $2m per annum until 9 March 2023. Plans to continue this arrangement until 30 June 2027 were evident in a departmental memorandum and within a schedule of projects lasting until that date.
Under Healthy Homes, Healthabitat is contracted to deliver about three Housing for Health (HFH) projects a year at remote communities, and a Maintaining Houses for Better Health (MHBH) project with Tangentyere Council at Alice Springs town camps. HFH projects have demonstrated a marked improvement in house function and provide an indicative audit for the condition of remote housing stock generally. However, this approach is only taken at a small number of communities.
A HFH team leader describes how such repeat visits establishes accountability for the project and the importance of transparency to tenants (pg 69 & 70):
The project manager will be into each house in a community at least four or five times. A team will be in there at least two times. And I think that that’s really important because it’s that in-built accountability. It’s like, what have we missed? How is the work being done and checked? Is it being done well or not? And getting someone back and checking it again. And I think that is often what is missing from a lot of processes – that in-built accountability and checking of work.
The main focus is to equip team members with the knowledge of how to fill out the survey and the basic skills of testing and fixing and about the project focus – the priorities of the HLPs and the health of people in the houses. And also being really transparent about the [project] dollars and where the money is going to be spent and how far the budget for each house can stretch.
The Project Report includes 32 recommendations, grouped into five program areas.
Healthy Homes is not currently meeting its goal to generalise a preventive maintenance approach across remote housing. To improve, it must act on the recommendations identified by the evaluation.
Some key recommendations we have picked from the list include:
- 3. Relevant TFHC and DIPL staff, including executive staff, should participate in HFH projects to increase their understanding of on-the-ground issues with remote community house condition, function, and repair and maintenance requirements.
- 5. HFH projects should continue to be delivered across select Northern Territory communities as an independent approach to auditing and fixing the condition of remote housing, to improve house function, and to generate goodwill for ongoing housing works.
- 16. TFHC and DIPL should undertake a review into the relationship between expenditure and reporting data, to investigate whether program works are adequately captured by existing processes, including the coding of works according to the schedule of rates.
- 27. TFHC should consider making grant funding available to service providers to develop community-level projects designed by remote community residents and focused on sustaining tenancies.
- 28. The next remote housing agreement between the Commonwealth and NT Governments must last longer than five years, and ideally ten years, so that contracts for housing services can be established for sufficient lengths to attract and develop reputable housing providers and ensure a sustainable Aboriginal community controlled housing sector.
- 30. The NT Government should consider the establishment of minimum standards, or healthy housing, provisions that would provide greater regulatory detail to the health hardware required in housing (and its function) so that it meet the standards of the Residential Tenancies Act.
- 31. The NT Government should consider the successes of remote housing maintenance programs implemented in other Australian jurisdictions, in particular South Australia. Specifically, it should trial the establishment of a schedule of preventive visits by various tradespeople through all remote community housing on a cyclical basis, on behalf of reducing major repair costs and increasing the total maintenance work undertaken.
Report Implications for policy and practice:
In the short-term, the project will inform reforms to remote community housing maintenance policy and practice undertaken by the NT Government and its contracted service providers.
In the medium-term, the project’s analysis will contribute to the growth of an Aboriginal community controlled housing sector in the Northern Territory, in which relevant organisations are managing town camp and remote community housing according to best practice preventive maintenance approaches.
Thank you to Menzies for joining our projects on the ground and carrying out the evaluation. It is important to have ongoing, objective reviews of programs to ensure processes are optimised and dollars are being spent for best bang for buck and results on the ground for people. We look forward to the recommendations being adopted.