Celebrating 40 years of Aboriginal housing

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following article contains names and/or images of deceased persons.

Today marks 40 years since the Aboriginal Housing Board of Victoria held its inaugural meeting for what is now the largest Aboriginal housing organisation in Australia.

The establishment of the Housing Board – known today as Aboriginal Housing Victoria (AHV) – is the product of a vision and determination to improve housing outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians.

Three years prior, Jim Berg, a Gunditjmara man and Victorian State Chairperson for the National Aboriginal Conference (NAC), convened the first State Aboriginal housing meeting. Those present at the meeting resolved to establish a housing body.

A strong concern, raised at the meeting, was that state government departments at that time were receiving funds from the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs, ‘to provide services for Aboriginal people’, yet Aboriginal people were not included in discussions as to how the money was to be spent.

There was determination, apparent in the words of Nessie Skuta, the NAC representative for country Victoria that, ‘we should make it our business to be informed’. Her view was that ‘all houses transferred to the Housing Commission from the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs should be handed over to the Aboriginal Cooperatives for the purpose of housing Aboriginal people’.

This view reflected the drive for self-determination for Aboriginal Peoples — after decades of dispossession and loss of autonomy — and helped to set in motion the establishment of the largest Aboriginal housing organisation in Australia.

Today we currently have over 1,550 properties across the state of Victoria under our ownership, providing affordable housing to over 4,000 low income Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Victorians. Our 80 staff members provide a range of services, from tenancy and maintenance through to wellbeing and advocacy.

This includes our successful More Than A Landlord and Aboriginal Community Home Connect wellbeing programs.

Coinciding with our growth as a rental provider is our growth in advocacy. In February of 2020 we launched Mana-na woorn-tyeen maar-takoort: The Victorian Aboriginal Housing and Homelessness Framework.

The Framework has been created by the Aboriginal community, for the Aboriginal community. It is supported by the Victorian Government and is a product of in-depth collaboration, including a state-wide summit with over 150 participants. It maps out a 20 year agenda to guide effective actions and policy to improve housing outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians.

It has been just over a year since it was first launched and we are already seeing positive outcomes. This includes the establishment of the Koori Caucus and Framework Implementation Working Group, the successful consortia-led bid for the Aboriginal Rapid Housing Response Program, and the announcement that the Victorian Government will invest 10% of its $5.3B Big Housing Build to improve Aboriginal Housing outcomes.

AHV’s vision is to ensure that Aboriginal Victorians secure appropriate, affordable housing as a pathway to better lives and stronger communities.

We are proud of the contributions, stories and legacy of everyone who has been a part of this journey, and who have worked to achieve the vision of our Elders who established our organisation 40 years ago.

We look forward to continuing this work as we strive to improve housing outcomes for all Aboriginal Victorians.