A paradigm shift is needed to address the shortcomings in the current housing landscape, especially for our First Nations Australians.

We all know the disparities. One in five First Nations households lives in overcrowded conditions, with the same proportion residing in a dwelling that fails an acceptable standard.

These disappointing realities, and our enduring commitment to reconciliation, have led the Australian Institute of Architects to call for accelerated First Nations housing development in the upcoming Australian Government budget in May.

The Institute’s proposal for a substantial investment in the Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF) reflects a commitment to Closing the Gap initiatives and a recognition of the profound impact that well-designed and culturally appropriate housing can have on the lives of First Nations communities.

The Institute has called for $4 billion over four years to be allocated in the HAFF for First Nations codesigned social housing, within an additional $10bn of investment to double HAFF funding overall. This could deliver about 8000 new social housing dwellings at a time of great need. This would raise the housing stock 25 per cent.

(Sourceable note: on March 12, the Commonwealth Government announced a $4 billion, 10-year remote housing package specifically for the Northern Territory.)

But the approach must be more than money. Previous attempts are not working, as demonstrated by the Productivity Commission’s review of Closing the Gap initiatives.

At the heart of the Institute’s recommendations is the importance of collaboration.

A codesign process involving First Nations peoples could empower communities to build and maintain housing, fostering economic development through construction. This would maximise the use of local workforces and upskill First Nations individuals, who are underrepresented in the architecture profession.

Together with additional education investments for design and construction industries, these could provide key workplace opportunities.

The Institute was heartened at the significant initial $10 billion investment in HAFF last year to build social and affordable housing. Sadly, Australia needs more stock.

The Institute’s recommended increased investment is essential to provide safe, secure, and sustainable homes for many households that currently find homeownership out of reach.

Opening up government land suitable for housing will also be crucial in enabling development.


But as always, this affordable housing-development boom should not be at all costs. The Institute strongly believes that social and affordable housing should not be designed to lower standards, particularly on energy efficiency, materials, and accessibility. Design is the key to unlocking housing that is both affordable and somewhere people want to live.

This is where architects play an important role.

The Institute proposes minimum standards for HAFF-funded housing, including development approval by multidisciplinary design review panels, an 8-Star energy efficiency standard, exclusion of gas appliances, and design by an architect.

An effective way to drive efficiency while maintaining excellent design characteristics would be the use of a social housing “pattern book” featuring pre-approved architect designs that prioritise quality, light, airflow, and energy efficiency.

Rather than designing bespoke dwellings each time, the standardised designs can be properly orientated and built to reduce time and costs.

Housing investments have the potential to reach beyond dwellings, to foster better social outcomes for people and our built environment.

By accelerating First Nations housing development, we can not only contribute to the Closing the Gap initiatives but also boost the foundation for a more equitable and resilient society.


By Stuart Tanner, Australian Institute of Architects National President


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