In the town of Maningrida, 500km east of Darwin, residents of a remote community say plans to renovate their houses have been implemented in a way that was culturally insensitive.
Aboriginal communities in Arnhem Land contain complex relationship structures which govern who they can and cannot interact with; for instance, interactions with family members known as “poison cousins” is avoided.
Residents say that they were forced to share accommodation with members who they normally wouldn’t, and that the government was not aware of their needs.
The following statement from the Northern Territory Minister for Housing and Community Development was provided to The Wire:
“A contract to upgrade 24 houses commenced in late October 2016, 14 houses have been handed over to tenants so far. The number of residents impacted has been minimal (64 over the life of the project). Upgrade work takes approximately 10-14 days.
3 are in progress at this stage due to a late completion however in general only two houses are worked on at any time to minimise the disruption to tenants. The current 3 houses receiving upgrade work mean a temporary impact to 11 residents.
Communities are always consulted about appropriate transitional accommodation options. So far in the program most communities prefer that tenants make their own arrangements to allow the budget to be spent on housing works rather than temporary accommodation.
The process for transitional accommodation involves an initial visit, accompanied by an interpreter, to explain what is going to happen during the upgrade works. Housing staff advise tenants of the upgrade works with a minimum of two weeks’ notice to tenants, and ensure tenants have somewhere to stay such as family members in the community. All care is taken in dealing in a sensitive and professional manner where no tenant is requested to relocate until suitable alternative accommodation is agreed upon by all parties involved. The schedule of sequence of dwellings to be upgraded requires flexibility as it is governed by the tenant’s availability to move in with other family and the scope of works required.
A home visit is conducted 2–3 days prior to the scheduled date for works to commence, by both Housing staff and contractor, to ensure clients are still happy with the transitional housing arrangements previously discussed, and tenants sign a transitional agreement form. Contractors provide a shipping container to the property of the house being upgraded before work commences where tenants’ possessions can be stored, and contractors assist with removal of large items such as fridges and bedframes, with any small personal items to be kept with the tenant.
The department is planning to use newly built houses for remaining transitional arrangements, however this has been delayed due to vandalism.