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Advocates urge more funding for urban and regional Aboriginal housing

Dechlan Brennan -

Indigenous groups have welcomed funding for remote housing but have called on the Federal government to recognise the housing needs of Aboriginal people in regional and urban areas as well.

In March, the Federal and Northern Territory governments announced a joint $4 billion investment for housing in remote communities across the Territory to help close the gap in housing outcomes. The partnership also includes Aboriginal Housing NT (AHNT) and the Aboriginal Land Councils from the NT, to help deliver the "imperative" housing.

On Tuesday, the Aboriginal Housing and Homelessness Forum (AHHF) and Aboriginal Housing Victoria (AHV) said the funding meant the government was "on the right path", noting the housing and homelessness outcomes for Indigenous Territorians was "unacceptable".

Data from the 2021 census showed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experienced homelessness at a rate of 306.8 per 10,000 people nationally, almost ten times the homelessness rate for non-Indigenous people.

In the NT, people experienced homelessness at a rate of 563.6 per 10,000, more than times the national average. An estimated 11,394 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were homeless in the NT on the night of the 2021 census.

AHHF Chair and AHV chief executive Darren Smith said he didn't want to take the focus away from the investment in housing in Aboriginal communities in the remote NT, but the rates of Indigenous homelessness and housing security was "at crisis point everywhere".

"Across all states and territories, in all areas remote, regional and urban, the housing and homelessness outcomes of Aboriginal people are unacceptable and deteriorating," Mr Smith said.

"On any given night in Victoria, there are [a] 1000 Aboriginal people who need homelessness support."

He noted Victoria has the highest rates of Aboriginal people accessing homelessness services nationally, with close to a quarter of Victorian Aboriginal women accessing homelessness services in 2022-23.

"Aboriginal people represent only one per cent of the entire Victorian population, yet 13 per cent of all people accessing specialist homelessness services in the state are Aboriginal – we need governments to tackle the nation-wide crisis with the same urgency as the remote NT," Mr Smith said.

AHV, the largest registered Aboriginal housing provider in the country, said they see the benefits to Aboriginal communities when Aboriginal community-controlled organisations "have custodianship through ownership of housing".

AHNT chief executive Skye Thompson said the organisation supported calls for national investment in Aboriginal housing.

"We know that we must strengthen the community-controlled sector if outcomes are to significantly improve across all Closing the Gap priority areas," Ms Thompson said.

"When we, as Aboriginal people, are empowered to take control of our lives and decision-making, we are able to build capacity across our communities – this leads to increased economic activity and more job opportunities."

Mr Smith, a Palawa man, previously submitted to the Yoorrook Justice Commission about land injustice for Indigenous Victorians. He argued it was the challenge for state and federal governments to invest in Aboriginal housing and homelessness services to a level capable of making a "real difference".

"They can start by ensuring available investments in new social and affordable housing, for example through the Housing Australia Future Fund, actually reach Aboriginal housing providers and Aboriginal people," he said.

"The enduring legacy of colonisation is stark when looking at the data – the least they can do is ensure that a minimum of 10 per cent of new housing is delivered to Aboriginal people through Aboriginal housing providers."

Ms Thompson said secure housing had the beneficial flow-on effect to a number of factors that would ultimately help close the gap.

"A stable home means a safe home environment for our kids which significantly increases education, employment and health outcomes," she said.

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