New South Wales Government Family & Community Services - Aboriginal Housing Office

Aboriginal Housing Master Class signals opportunity for greater national collaboration

On 8-9 September in Sydney, the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office (AHO) co-hosted an Aboriginal Housing Master Class with the Australasian Housing Institute. 

The Master Class was an opportunity to bring leaders from the Aboriginal Housing sector together to share information, highlight national learnings and address some of the big issues facing the sector. 

Speakers such as Sam Jeffries, Sally Langton and AHO Chief Executive Shane Hamilton addressed the core question: How do we combine the experience of mainstream housing and Aboriginal housing to learn from each other and collaborate to better address Aboriginal housing issues and support sustainability? 

According to Shane, the AHO was initially approached to consider an Aboriginal Housing Conference, but felt that a Master Class was a more dynamic forum to have detailed conversations. 

Shane also highlighted the importance of the event being a national initiative, particularly given the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing (NPARIH) ends in 2018. 

“We know that each state is in a different place with that agreement, so the conversation about Aboriginal Housing is absolutely one that concerns the whole of Australia,” explains Shane. 

“As a sector, we need to start talking about where the real pressure points are going to be beyond 2018, and put our heads together to think about what a new agreement might focus on and whether another one should be developed.” 

The Master Class was also an exciting opportunity to take a strengths-based approach and reflect on what has worked well in the sector and what it can keep building on. It was a time to look at what the sector could do differently and how it may need to change, to respond to emerging issues. 

“There is great opportunity for us to share ideas and existing stories as a platform to talk about real solutions for future housing options for Aboriginal people,” says Shane. 

“For example, there have been some really positive initiatives in transitional housing programs in Western Australia, which have clearly improved housing options for remote communities. This is something we could perhaps learn from and amplify nationally.” 

One of the key issues the AHO wanted to raise with their national counterparts was that of stronger community engagement around the type of housing systems that are actually needed. 

“In many cases, big national agreements can be seen to be imposing things on Aboriginal communities and developing systems and structures for us that do not reflect individual needs and aspirations. 

“We don’t want to be in a situation where time and dollars drive a program and its outcomes; we want the drivers to be innovation and community need. This means we need to look at how we can better collaborate and co-design with our communities.” 

Shane says should a new agreement or any kind of national partnership be developed, he wants to see innovation at its core, as it can’t simply be a ‘one size fits all’ model. 

The AHO believes that forums like the Master Class are a great opportunity for this kind of innovation to flourish. 

“With the NPARIH agreement ending in 2018, we need to start having these conversations now, so that we can better understand the level of need to plan for and start working on providing new solutions for people, as they transition through the housing continuum. 

“We need to have a system that is responsive to those needs at every point on someone’s journey – not just solutions that are stuck and focused at one end of the spectrum.” 

Shane argues that if you think about the broader, closing-the-gap agenda and look to health challenges, mental health, education, employment – all of those things have a theme, and that theme is housing support providing a strong foundation to address all of these other challenges. 

“Beyond 2018, we know there will still be a lot of unmet need and there’s a challenge in making sure that programs are available at each stage of the housing continuum. 

“We will also still face the challenge of making sure that programs and services are culturally relevant for Aboriginal people and their families. I think there’s a lot more we can do to support mainstream providers, who are connecting with Aboriginal communities,” says Shane. 

The AHO hopes to continue to deliver master classes and similar events to ensure Aboriginal Housing has a voice and a recognised place in the broader housing sector. 

“We do need our own platform to inform policy going forward. We need clear access and choice in housing options and we need to support our community in housing as well. 

“By coming together as a national community, we can hopefully influence policy in a positive way and keep community need at the centre of decision making.”