Click to enlarge
Winners and Finalists
Housing for Health Programme
Aims and Objectives
To improve the health of indigenous people, by ensuring they have access to a safe and well functioning house, and an improved living environment.
There is a long history of abuse, mistreatment and misunderstanding of the indigenous people of Australia, not least when it comes to the provision of appropriate housing. Indigenous people live in very poor housing conditions and where the state provides housing, it is not designed with any understanding of the way of life or cultural needs of these communities. The common view is that the indigenous people ‘trash’ the good homes provided for them and do not deserve decent housing provision. The houses are often in disrepair and there are high levels of rent arrears.
Many indigenous people have low literacy rates as well as a pattern of poor health characterised by high rates of infectious disease and very high rates of diabetes, vascular disease and obesity. Skin infections, respiratory diseases, rheumatic fever, rheumatic heart disease and ear disease in children also occur at much higher rates than in the non-indigenous population. Life is typically lived in harsh, remote and often chaotic conditions. Housing is usually provided by local or state governments or indigenous community organisations and is of poor quality with little, if any, maintenance or good management.
Healthabitat works with local indigenous communities to repair existing homes and train local people in basic repair and maintenance skills. It has two main areas of work – the HfH projects and the associated applied research and development projects. The safety and nine Healthy Living Practices were developed in the mid 1980s to describe the functioning hardware needed in a house to allow access to healthy living. These practices include: life threatening safety issues, washing people, washing clothes and bedding, removing waste water safely, improving nutrition with the ability to store, preparing and cooking food and reducing the health impacts of dust. Nominations for inclusion in the programme come from communities themselves, as well as indigenous housing boards and Indigenous Affairs departments. After a feasibility study and if the communities wish to participate, a Survey-Fix week is set aside and a number of local community members are trained to work alongside technical staff to inspect, test and record about 240 items in the houses, and where possible make repairs. The information on each house is entered onto a database and work lists are given to qualified trades people who carry out urgent repairs a day later. Other repairs are completed over the following months and a second Survey-Fix session is carried out to review the work.
One hundred and eighty four HfH projects have been carried out all around Australia, with over 7,300 houses improved to date. Seventy-five per cent of all project staff are local indigenous people and the paid work they carry out includes project planning, training of staff, testing and repairing houses, assisting licensed trades people with major repair work, data entry and office work and liaison with householders in their own language about the aims and methods of the programme. Survey groups are trained in a short time to test houses and record the results, using a carefully prescribed methodology. While they are in a house they will also fix minor faults (a dripping tap, a missing stove control knob or basin plug etc.) driven by the philosophy of ‘no survey without service’ and make a report for the skilled tradesmen who make an immediate start on sorting out those things that the groups are not entitled to fix. The effort required to achieve this engagement is rarely understood by government agencies and bureaucrats and successful and appropriate means of working have been developed over the years.
Healthabitat has also initiated a broad range of applied, practical research projects to improve housing, covering issues such as development of tap ware, hot water systems, waste disposal systems, lighting, kitchen design, prefabricated transportable shower laundry and toilet modules, local indigenous staff training aids and customised database and information systems.
By Australian standards, HfH is a low-cost programme. From 1999 to 2009, projects had an average cost of US$7,500 per house for all works including repair work, management, staff wages, building materials and transport. This is helped by the Healthabitat organisation itself having very low overheads.
Since 2006, approximately 15 per cent of the national HfH budget has been allocated to research and development projects.
Commonly held myths about indigenous people reinforce existing housing policy orthodoxy and prevent change. Healthabitat has used the evidence collected from HfH projects to disprove some of the common myths.
Fast, politically expedient growth threatens long-term programme sustainability as rapid expansion denies the very factors that have led to success – community involvement through staff training and careful project planning. By sticking to the principles political acrimony has been incurred and slower growth achieved than might have been possible.
The hard evidence of HfH data has highlighted the failures of previous government intervention and this has created political disfavour and slowed the work in some states. HfH remains committed to its priorities and methods of working and accepts that it is better to do this than compromise.
EvaluationHfH projects and the programme as a whole have been regularly monitored and evaluated over 25 years, both internally and externally. The continuing emphasis on internal monitoring and evaluation is one of the reasons for the continued programme development and improvement. The most comprehensive external evaluations were an independent review of the programme, 2002 to 2005 and an independent review on the health impacts of ten years of HfH projects in New South Wales, 1998 to 2009.
Between 1999 and 2010, HfH projects have been commenced in 184 locations around Australia. These projects have improved over 7,000 houses and improved the living conditions of over 40,000 indigenous people. University courses have been offered to date in three states to students of architecture, planning, nursing, and health science and it is planned to increase these.
The National Partnership Agreement for Remote Indigenous Housing currently being rolled out across Australia (US$5.5 billion) by the Federal and all state governments has incorporated the safety and nine Healthy Living Practices in all the national guideline documents. Healthabitat recognises that it will need to continue to work to ensure these guidelines are respected and implemented.
A large NGO addressing homelessness in the USA is currently trialling an HfH project in an urban public housing district of New York City.
The HfH principles have been applied by Healthabitat to a remote village sanitation project for 450 people in Nepal.
Mr Paul Pholeros
Healthabitat Pty Ltd
PO Box 495
Newport Beach, NSW 2016
We welcome your thoughts and ideas. If you comment as a guest, your email address will only be visible to the moderator and only used to filter spam. It won't be used in any other way and won't be shared with any third party. If you are interested in receiving information on the World Habitat Awards please sign up to our newsletter here.