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The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) administers a number of programs to improve the living environment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Its second largest program is the Community Housing and Infrastructure Program (CHIP) which has the aim of providing appropriate, safe and affordable housing, and improving community and individual health and wellbeing.
In 2000-01, CHIP expenditure totalled $235m, of which around half went to the provision of housing. Over 500 houses were purchased/constructed and over 1,000 upgraded/renovated. The program has a particular focus on environmental health infrastructure through a specific sub-program called the National Aboriginal Health Strategy (NAHS). In 2000-01 more than $82m was spent under NAHS on large-scale projects targeting priority housing and infrastructure including power, water and waste removal, mainly in rural and remote Indigenous communities.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics undertook a Community Housing and Infrastructure Needs Survey for ATSIC during 1999 and the results were released in April 2000. To align with the 2001 Census, the survey is being repeated in 2001. This will provide a comprehensive picture on Indigenous housing circumstances across all tenures at a single point in time.
ATSIC’s Community Housing and Infrastructure Program supplements the efforts of State/Territory Governments which also receive earmarked Indigenous housing funds from the Aboriginal Rental Housing Program ($91m per annum) of the Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS).
The Commonwealth Government, through FaCS and ATSIC, has been implementing bilateral housing agreements with State and Territory Governments to maximise program efficiency and effectiveness and to better coordinate all housing programs specific to Indigenous people. At 30 June 2001, agreements had been signed with the Northern Territory, Western Australia, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland while negotiations with other States are continuing.
In December 1999, the Agreement on National Indigenous Housing Information was signed by the Chief Executive Officers of the Commonwealth and State and Territory agencies administering Indigenous housing assistance (AIHW 2000c). The ABS and the AIHW are also signatories to the agreement and the AIHW provides secretariat support. The agreement provides a framework to improve how outcomes for Indigenous housing are measured with a focus on developing national data sets.
In 2000-01 the ABS and the AIHW worked with agencies responsible for Indigenous housing assistance at the Commonwealth and State/Territory levels to develop a work program which was endorsed by the Housing Ministers' Advisory Council to be undertaken in 2001-02.
The five projects in the work program seek to:
National Indigenous housing reforms
The Commonwealth-State Working Group on Indigenous Housing has developed to become a significant focus for coordinating national effort and provides a valuable forum for ATSIC, the Commonwealth and the States to share information and strategies.
Agreement has been achieved in a number of key areas including:
In May 2001, the Commonwealth and State Housing Ministers and the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, adopted the ten year plan ('Building a Better Future: Indigenous Housing to 2010') to improve Indigenous housing outcomes . Strategies to achieve these outcomes will include: identifying and addressing unmet housing need; improving the capacity of IHOs; involving communities in planning and delivery; and achieving safe, healthy and sustainable housing.
All funding agencies, including the State housing authorities (SHAs), will be developing strategies to achieve the agreed outcomes within their jurisdiction. This will include the development of criteria for capital and recurrent funding and, in particular, strategies for ensuring that IHOs achieve effective and efficient management practices.
The ATSIC Home Ownership scheme aims to reduce the disparity between the rate of home ownership in Indigenous communities and that in the wider Australian community. The rate of home ownership for Aboriginal family and lone-person households was estimated in the 1996 Census to be 31%. This compares with a national non-Indigenous figure of 71%.
ATSIC provides home loans at concessional interest rates to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. The Home Ownership scheme targets low income families with the capacity to repay a long-term loan, but who have difficulty obtaining finance from traditional lending institutions. The total number of loans made in 2000-01 was about 480, with the total loan portfolio administered by ATSIC now at $300m.