Bagot community misses out on housing deal

April 9, 2011
Joy White

Despite crisis levels of overcrowding, many urban Aboriginal communities have been denied federal funding for new housing. On March 18, ABC online said town camps around Darwin were not allocated any of the $1.5 billion in upgrades planned for Aboriginal communities.

One such community is Bagot. It is one the larger town camps in Darwin, made up of about 400 residents. Like all town camps in the Northern Territory, Bagot is subject to the controls of the NT intervention. Alcohol and pornography are banned, and residents on welfare have had their income “quarantined”. This means that half can only be spent on food, clothing and medical supplies.

These “sticks” were supposed to be balanced by the “carrots” of improved services and housing under the NT intervention, but very little has been done to improve the rampant overcrowding.

Joy White, a Bagot resident, told Green Left Weekly that there aren’t enough houses for the permanent residents and that there were too many visitors from remote communities. She said that the intervention had led to an influx of visitors because it was easier to use the Basics Card in Darwin than in remote communities.

White said that there should be funding available to train and employ locals to make the repairs and upgrades themselves. This would help fight unemployment and make the community more sustainable.

Part of the problem lies in the federal funding available to the Yilli Rreung Housing Aboriginal Corporation, which manages housing for Bagot.

Yilli Rreung has $2000 a year per house for upgrades and repairs. Remote housing projects are eligible for an extra $5000, but are still failing to meet many of the targets set. In addition, Yilli Rreung said that insurance costs, rather than repairs, consumed most of the funds.

Residents are being encouraged to sign new tenancy leases that put more responsibility on residents for the maintenance of houses and yards.

Residents have said that they won’t sign until emergency repairs had been made to make the houses safe. In one case, faulty repairs had led to a small fire when heavy rains met exposed electrical wiring.

New leases are a common theme emerging in Aboriginal housing. It seems that the dominant approach taken by government and some housing providers is to blame tenants for overcrowding and use that as an excuse to turn collective arrangements into individual home ownership.

Country Liberals MP Natasha Griggs said in July 2010 that she wanted to see Bagot become a “normal suburb” and listed individual home ownership as a way to make that happen.

Former Aboriginal affairs minister Mal Brough and prime minister Jullia Gillard have stated similar opinions.

The government is focused on individual home ownership as a way to “reform” public housing and solve overcrowding.

However, the real problem is a lack of housing in general. But ignoring this allows the government to avoid responsibility for meeting demand in public housing.

Meanwhile, most of the funding is going to the 16 so-called hub towns in the NT. Here, according to the government, health and education services will be made more available than in remote communities.

What determines a hub town was never made clear. Bagot should meet the requirements — it is located in the fairly central suburb of Ludmilla. But it doesn’t receive extra funding.

Even in the hub towns, progress in Aboriginal housing is extremely slow. In November 2010, only 93 of the 750 proposed houses under the federal government’s emergency scheme had been completed.

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