NT housing groups breathe a sigh of relief over remote housing deal
2 April 2019 at 4:44 pm
A prolonged remote housing battle between the federal and Northern Territory governments has been finalised, with NT land councils and social housing groups labelling the news as a step towards solving the overcrowding crisis.
Both the federal government, and the NT chief minister Michael Gunner announced on Sunday the remote housing National Partnership Agreement had been signed.
It follows months of fighting between the two governments, sparked by the federal government’s failure to carry out a pledge of $550 million ($110 million per year for five years) to support remote territory housing.
Over half of all remote housing tenants in the Northern Territory live in overcrowded dwellings, and the additional money from the federal government would see an extra 650 homes built over four years.
The fallout reached a peak last month when Gunner relinquished the remote housing leases of 44 communities back to the Commonwealth, halting the NT government’s $1.1 billion remote housing policy.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government had always been committed and the agreement meant they could now “just get on with it”.
“This agreement will help tackle the severe overcrowding that still persists in many remote NT communities by working with Indigenous communities,” Morrison said.
The Commonwealth funding is in addition to the investment from the Territory government, which will take responsibility for remote housing leases until 2023.
Peter McMillan, CEO of NT Shelter, told Pro Bono News it was a huge relief the agreement was finalised before the caretaker period took over in the lead up to the federal election.
“If that had happened then the commitment could have gotten lost and off the table,” McMillan said.
He said while it wouldn’t completely fix the enormous issue of overcrowding, it was a step in the right direction.
“Eighty three per cent of people who are homeless in the NT live in severely overcrowded dwellings, and we know that there’s very strong evidence of the links between overcrowded housing and poor health education and employment outcomes,” McMillan said.
“This will certainly make a contribution towards additional housing for families that are currently doing it tough.”
The agreement also includes the Northern, Central, Tiwi and Anindilyakwa Land Councils as part of a Joint Steering Committee, in a bid to guarantee transparency, and local Indigenous involvement in the roll out.
Interim CEO of the Northern Land Council Jak Ah Kit said the four land councils were relieved the deal had passed before the election period began.
He also said he expected to work very closely with the NT government on the delivery of the funding.
McMillan said bringing the land councils on board was a positive move by the agreement.
“It provides another level of scrutiny and consultation opportunities, which is definitely a positive,” he said.
He added it was important that learnings from the 2017 Remote Housing Review were taken on board, especially in terms of working with and consulting with local communities.
“It’s really important to develop the capacity of local skills, and involve locals in the design and consultation, as to how they want their houses built,” he said.
But McMillan said it was vital to have a long-term commitment if the issue of overcrowding in remote communities was to be effectively solved.
“It’s going to require very careful collaboration and close working relationships with local people to transfer control of housing back to local communities,” he said.
“We just need a long-term commitment from all the states, territories, and the Commonwealth government to get this problem of overcrowding in Aboriginal communities solved.