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Poverty key influence affecting long-term housing stability of Indigenous Western Australians

Media release


16 July 2008

Latest Curtin University of Technology research has found that entrenched poverty is the strongest factor shaping the long-term housing stability of urban Indigenous Western Australians.

Led by Dr Christina Birdsall-Jones, this ethnographic research was conducted by Housing and Urban Research Institute of Western Australia (HURIWA) researchers at Curtin’s John Curtin Institute of Public Policy.

The research found that due to entrenched poverty most Indigenous people seek housing from a social housing provider – in Western Australia this would be Homeswest – and few are able to engage in the purchase of their own homes, resulting in a culture of renting.

Dr Birdsall-Jones explained that the relationship between Indigenous Australians and social housing providers also has an impact on their long-term housing stability.

“The relationship is often characterised by conflict between the tenant and the social housing agency,” Dr Birdsall-Jones said.

“The key aspects of this conflict are housing-related debt, waiting list, maintenance and repairs, and the transparency of the administrative process.

“Where the resolution of these conflict issues remains the current concern of the individual’s life, long-term housing plans will be subsumed in an effort to obtain a resolution.”

Other key factors affecting the long-term housing stability of urban Indigenous Western Australians include family and neighbourhood violence, overcrowding, and stability and affordability.

“Violence narrows the individual’s focus to the management of crisis and day-to-day necessities,” Dr Birdsall-Jones said.

“Bills and rent can go unpaid, and with household debt mounting to thousands of dollars, women and children in particular are threatened with homelessness.”

Dr Birdsall-Jones also pointed out the impact of the housing affordability crisis on the urban Indigenous population.

“The current crisis in housing affordability and low vacancy rates in all three research sites produced extreme anxiety among Indigenous renters prompting feelings of attachment and ownership towards their Homeswest rental homes,” Dr Birdsall-Jones said.

“Overcrowding was also another outcome of the affordability crisis and the resulting low vacancy rates because individuals and families are forced to choose between homelessness and living with their kinfolk in conditions the dwellings are ill suited to support.”
The HURIWA research also found that one factor in improving the chances of Indigenous people achieving home ownership is having a family history of home ownership.  This creates social capital by shaping the aspirations of younger generations in favour of home ownership as an achievable reality.

Data for this project was gathered in the course of ethnographic interviews by Dr Birdsall-Jones and her team involving extended kin groups of Indigenous Australians in Perth, Carnarvon and Broome.

Contact: Dr Christina Birdsall-Jones; Housing and Urban Research Institute of Western Australia, John Curtin Institute of Public Policy; Curtin; 08 9266 3356; 040 332 8978; OR Ann Marie Lim; Public Relations; 08 9266 4241; 0401 103 532;

CRICOS provider code: 00301J

Modified: 16 July 2008