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New homes on the way for Tennant Creek, but 12,000 home shortfall needs election attention

ABC

Journalists: Samantha Jonscher and Jacqueline Breen. 

Freshly-washed laundry is drying on the line at Nicole Frank’s house at the Mulga town camp on the edge of Tennant Creek.

The load is dotted with pink things for her daughter Kira.

Like anywhere, doing laundry here is a chore.

But Nicole shares this washing machine and clothesline with nine other adults and that makes the task harder.

Add in the kids and there are 16 people living in the four-bedroom home.

Six people sleep in the living room including the main tenant, who is a dialysis patient.

Ms Frank and her daughter are one of more than 200 families on the public housing waiting list in Tennant Creek.

They have been waiting four years for a place but the average wait is up to double that, the longest of any of the Northern Territory’s urban centres.

“It’s really hard, not having your own home,” Ms Frank said.

“I want a house of my own, so I can grow my kids in a good way, send my kids to a good school and have things for their futures too.”

Waiting for the washing machine, struggling to keep things clean — Ms Frank is describing the daily, draining grind that mostly remote, mostly Aboriginal families in the NT face trying to stay healthy in critically overcrowded housing.

Across town, Ms Frank’s father and Warumungu Traditional Owner Norm Frank plays with his five young children in his garden at Village Camp.

He has cultivated a green yard and is building a chicken coop in the home he moved into after an eight-year wait.

His family stayed with his brother for most of that time.

“His kids having problems with my kids, no room.

“You go out camping to get away from the arguing, the noise, the humbugging.”

Mr Frank said others on the waiting list resort to living in the tin sheds scattered on the edges of town, without running water or electricity.

More people across the NT have taken to sleeping rough in improvised dwellings or tents over the past decade, according to the NT Government submission to a federal homelessness inquiry running quietly in the national background as the pandemic crisis rages on.

Among the stark statistics neatly dot-pointed in the submission — one per cent of Australia’s population lives in the NT, but the region makes up 12 per cent of the country’s homeless population.

‘This situation is not normal’

The Aboriginal health service in Tennant Creek says it’s a losing battle trying to help patients who leave doctor’s appointments only to return home to poor housing.

“When a patient wants to make a shift in their life to improve their health and wellbeing, it’s not just about having access to doctors and nurses,” Anyinginyi Aboriginal Health Service manager Barb Shaw said.

“This situation is not normal, it’s inadequate.”

Dialysis patient Christine Morton has a place and a much-loved garden, but says it’s hard to keep the ageing property as clean as she likes it.

The plaster walls of the home she shares with four relatives are crumbling in sections, and in summer a hole in the flooring means snakes frequently enter the house.

“You try hard to keep everything nice, and in a good condition — it kind of breaks your heart,” she said.

Solutions still under construction

A department spokeswoman says seven new homes have been built in Tennant Creek since the Labor Government’s election four years ago.

Another 35 are in the pipeline.

Last week, Chief Minister Michael Gunner promised the government would honour the limited allocation made for new and upgraded urban public housing, after $27 million was “reprioritised” to cover Labor’s pandemic stimulus spending.

And Labor says its $1.1 billion, 10-year spend on remote housing, which is boosted by a $550 million Commonwealth contribution, is the most any Northern Territory government has committed to the region’s long-running housing problems.

A recent review by the NT Auditor-General found evidence of delays and cost blow-outs in the early stages of the Room to Breathe element of the remote housing program, but the department said its processes had been tightened since.

But the Government also admits its remote housing spend won’t go far enough.

A five-year housing strategy released with little fanfare late last year estimates between 8,000 and 12,000 new homes are needed across the NT.

The strategy says the government’s investment will fall short of the mark and “unmet demand” will need to be addressed.

In its submission to the federal homelessness inquiry, the NT Government says current levels of federal funding aren’t reflective of need and a new partnership agreement is needed after the current one expires in 2022.

Housing peak body NT Shelter wants more urgent action, and solid commitments from candidates heading in to next month’s NT election.

“We feel an initial commitment to supply an additional 250 homes per year over the next four years would be a really solid start,” central Australian coordinator Hannah Purdy said.

“We’re talking about 8,000 to 12,000 new homes needed.

The original article is available here.

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