Housing programme helps Aboriginal people break welfare cycle

photo of program participant and her daughter
One of the happy program participants Shenolla and her daughter.

​With a focus on wealth creation and reducing welfare dependence a housing programme is changing the lives of Aboriginal people in Kununurra.

“If you want something different, you've got to do something different, and this is doing something different,” Grahame Searle, Department of Housing’s Director General, said.

Participants in the Transitional Housing Programme are provided with a rental home and access to support services to help them develop independence. In return they must be employed, or in training, and their children must attend school regularly.

According to Mr Searle the Commonwealth-funded programme has a focus on individual responsibility and has proved successful at increasing work force participation and school attendance, as well as reducing overcrowding in Aboriginal households.

“The overall goal is home ownership and intergenerational wealth transfer. This is achieved by providing motivated Aboriginal people with a safe and secure place to live to create wealth and as a result reduce welfare dependence,” he said.

Since the programme began last year an average of 92 per cent of the children in the programme go to school compared to 68 per cent across the Kimberley. All tenants under the programme are either employed, or in training, while the labour force participation rate for Aboriginal people in WA is approximately 50 per cent.

The programme is a partnership between the Department of Housing, the Wunan Foundation as the support services provider, and Community Housing Limited (CHL) as the property and tenancy manager.

Ian Trust, Chairman and Executive Director of the Wunan Foundation, said the associated support services provided by Wunan include setting lifestyle goals, financial management and engagement with community support networks such as health agencies.

“I think the programme is the first that I’ve come across that is really going to change the lives of Aboriginal people in terms of breaking the status quo,” Mr Trust said.

Several participants have been able to improve their economic situation since starting the programme; four households have had their applications to purchase their property approved with eight more home purchase applications in progress.

“You package up these opportunities and responsibilities in a house; families then have to meet their obligations by finding a job, or going into education or training, and sending their kids to school, because for kids to succeed they have got to go to school,” Mr Trust said.

He believes this programme will “break the welfare cycle”.

“There is absolutely no reason why people should be living in poverty for two or three generations when they are surrounded by opportunities and this programme is one of the ways we can do it,” he said.

The programme is as much about changing the people’s mindsets as it is about delivering a physical outcome.

“It's amazing, the power of reward for effort. We've had examples of people who have never been in work, on welfare for many, many years. After they got the first one or two pays they realised all of a sudden this money is all theirs and getting that car or buying a house is not too far away. It's amazing how they can just change,” Mr Trust said. 

transitional program house
​An example of the houses that have been constructed for the Program.


The Transitional Housing Programme received the State’s top public sector management prize last month at the 2013 Premier’s Awards in the Improving Aboriginal Outcomes category.
The Programme was funded by the Federal Government through the  East Kimberley Development Package (EKDP) that provided $20 million for the construction of 40 dwellings in Kununurra.
Programme participants must be engaged in employment or training, ensure that their children attend school regularly and participate in the associated support programme.
The support services provided to participants include setting lifestyle goals, financial management and progressing referrals to community support networks such as health agencies.
At the 2013 WA Architecture Awards the housing design was commended in the Harold Krantz Award for Residential Architecture - Multiple Housing category.
The Programme also won the Australasian Housing Institute's Leading Housing Project Award in WA this year.




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