With only two of seven targets on track in the 2020 Closing the Gap report, many are asking, how can we do things better?

The target to close the life expectancy gap by 2031 is far from being on track. In 2015-2018, life expectancy at birth was 71.6 years for Indigenous males and 75.6 years for Indigenous females. This is compared to 80.2 years for non-Indigenous males and 83.4 years for non-Indigenous females. This data shows the gap stands at 8.6 years’ difference between males and 7.8 between females.

The life expectancy of a person is affected by health and social determinants such as education, employment and housing.

Aboriginal Community Housing Ltd (ACHL) is a nationally registered, independent Aboriginal housing provider. The organisation currently manages housing in urban, regional and remote communities in Western Australia and New South Wales and has plans to extend across the country by 2023.

Supported by Community Housing Ltd Group (CHL), ACHL has been invited to manage existing housing and develop new housing in Aboriginal communities. Both organisations are motivated to reduce housing poverty and homelessness.

Chair of ACHL, Maureen O’Meara, said housing for Indigenous Australians is very limited.

“There is a significant undersupply of housing for First Nations people in Australia, in all locations including on traditional lands, in regional centres and in cities.

“Much existing housing for First Nations people is poorly designed, is environmentally unfriendly, is hard to maintain and is unsuitable for their living requirements.

“Significant new funding is required to upgrade existing housing and build new housing which is affordable and culturally appropriate.”

O’Meara said the original Closing the Gap initiative failed to acknowledge housing or homelessness.

“This is an astonishing omission given that displacement of First Nations people from access to traditional lands and traditional ways of living is a crucial aspect of colonisation.”

“It is hard to imagine other Closing the Gap targets being met without addressing such a fundamental need as safe, appropriate, affordable, good quality housing – that’s what ACHL is aiming to address.”

ACHL believes that to achieve equity in housing, First Nations need to be at the table.

“Equity is about allowing First Nations people to design solutions to housing.

Native Title has not afforded First Nations people with the opportunities or options relating to land ownership that could [stand] in the housing market and potentially create wealth and allow people to live on Country.

“The current land ownership laws for First Nations people living on Country across the jurisdictions prohibits this as the majority of land is held by State or Commonwealth Governments.”

ACHL works alongside First Nations peoples, communities and Governments to deliver place-based housing solutions that meet specific needs.

“This also means that culturally appropriate tenure and housing management would improve the quality and sustainability of housing for them.”

Whilst public housing opportunities do exist, waitlists are congested due to housing availability and First Nations peoples can become victim to discrimination.

Discrimination is evident to First Nations people who are excluded because of race in housing laws and regulations.”

“For example, Aboriginal people who are working or considering moving into new employment and applying for private rental are more likely to be discriminated against in the private housing market and are less likely to be able to secure it.

“Community housing providers are key services in this space and are working hard to bridge the gap in affordable housing and equity in tenancies. It should be noted that ACHL holds a real estate license and is able to develop a range of rental options to suit every income position of First Nations people including rent to purchase and transition to home ownership.

“Existing public and private rental tenure and securitisation arrangements for home ownership are not culturally appropriate and do not assist First Nations people to live in a culturally appropriate way on their land.”

Although the Closing the Gap report is released annually, the change it finds is limited. Calls have been heard this year to reassess processes to include input from organisations working within Aboriginal communities. ACHL hopes to step forward as a positive solution to the housing realities for First Nations peoples.

“The government has delivered its Closing the Gap report each year, with the same result, they are failing to deliver on their KPIs and reduce the gap in disparity between First Nations peoples and Australia’s mainstream population cohort.

“This cannot continue, and we must change the dialogue from disparity to parity, and the only way government can do this is to engage with First Nations communities, and the CHL and ACHL companies can provide the national platform to do this.”

By Rachael Knowles