The first peak body giving Indigenous people in the Northern Territory a voice on housing has been launched to take the needs of Aboriginal communities to the government.
The recently incorporated Housing NT Aboriginal Corporation, representing peak NT advocacy bodies including land councils and the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT) was launched at a the National Housing Conference in Darwin on Tuesday.
“Gone are the days when we have others making decisions on our behalf,” AMSANT CEO John Patterson told a media conference at the launch.
“Now we can be the voice of Aboriginal people to take their housing needs to the various levels of government.”
Opening a dialogue
The corporation will enable a direct dialogue with government, co-chair Barb Shaw said.
“We want Aboriginal controlled community housing to give back to the people, because past policies took that control away,” Ms Shaw told Government News.
The body would also help highlight some of the key issues for Aboriginal people, including culturally appropriate housing and overcrowding, with more than ten people living in one house in some communities.
“We want to have culturally informed suitable designs,” she said. “From location to layout and materials that are used, cooling and heating, and looking at more sustainable and cost effective housing for our mob.”
NT grapples with ‘severe overcrowding’
Earlier, the conference heard from NT housing minister Gerald McCarthy that the Territory has 12 times the national homeless rate, with 16.5 per cent of all Territorians experiencing homelessness.
Twenty per cent of Aboriginal people in the NT are homeless and 81 per cent of those lived in “severely overcrowded” dwellings.
“Not a good resume for a housing minister,” he quipped. But he added the government was seeking solutions via a $1.1 billion remote housing investment package.
The package includes the Room to Breathe initiative tackling overcrowding and a housing entitlement program for government employees in remote areas.
Seventy-six per cent of the Territory’s housing funding comes from the Territory government with the commonwealth chipping in for the rest.
As long as funding continued to be allocated on population rather than need, the homelessness rate in the NT would continue to rise, Mr McCarthy said.
But he said while the NT faced significant housing challenges, it was also at a crossroads where it had a unique opportunity to give communities control of their future.
Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and community services Luke Howarth told the conference Indigenous people are over represented in homelessness and over-crowding is a problem the government needs to address.
“Severe overcrowding now accounts for around 44 per cent of homelessness in Australia. If you’re going to do something about homelessness then you’re going to have to address that figure.”
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