There are two types of Aboriginal housing in the social housing system:
- Housing provided by the Aboriginal Housing Office (AHO); and
- Aboriginal community housing, provided by Local Aboriginal Land Councils and other Aboriginal organisations.
All of the other forms of social housing are available to Aboriginal persons, too. (In fact, there are more Aboriginal tenants in public housing than there are tenants of Aboriginal Housing.)
The AHO is a statutory agency established by the Aboriginal Housing Act 1998(NSW). It has a board appointed from the Aboriginal community, but it is part of the NSW Department of Family and Community Services and is closely tied with FACS Housing.
The AHO owns about 4500 rental properties, which are managed by FACS Housing on behalf of the AHO.
The AHO has a long-term objective of transferring management of its properties to Aboriginal community housing providers. In early 2016 it commenced a process of transferring ownership of some of its properties to interested Aboriginal community housing providers.
Applying for AHO housing
You can apply for AHO housing as part of an application for social housing through Housing Pathways. Tick the box on the Housing Pathways application form. You will have to show that you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander to be eligible.
FACS Housing manages AHO tenancies in much the same way as its public housing tenancies.
Fixed terms, eligibility reviews, transfers and terminations and most other policy matters are the same. Succession is dealt with according to the same special provisions FACS Housing applies in relation to Aboriginal clients in public housing. Requests for repairs to AHO properties go through the Housing Contact Centre, as in public housing.
There is a difference in relation to subsidised rents. AHO tenants are entitled to Rent Assistance, and the subsidised rent is calculated on the assumption that all of the Rent Assistance received by your household will be spent on rent – as in community housing. However, the moderate income rent rebate rates also apply to AHO tenants – as in public housing.
Also, where a FACS Housing officer proposes to make a significant decision about an AHO tenancy (such as enforcing a warrant of possession), they have to get approval from an AHO officer.
Aboriginal community housing
There are about 4400 rental properties in the Aboriginal community housing sector. About 60 per cent of them are owned by Local Aboriginal Land Councils, the rest by other Aboriginal organisations.
Aboriginal community housing is regulated by the AHO through its registration system, in the same way that community housing is regulated by FACS Housing. Local Aboriginal Land Councils are also regulated by the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983(NSW). In particular, they may operate social housing schemes only with the approval of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and must comply with certain conditions.
‘Build and Grow’
There have long been concerns about the management practices and viability of Aboriginal community housing providers, and the condition of the housing they provide. The AHO’s ‘Build and Grow’ strategy is a response to these concerns.
Under ‘Build and Grow’, Aboriginal community housing providers are being asked to register under a revamped registration system, the Provider Assessment and Registration System (PARS). Providers may be registered as ‘Approved providers’ or ‘Headlease providers’.
To get registered as an Approved provider, the organisation must show that they comply with certain standards. Registered providers will receive special funding to do their backlog of repairs, and operating subsidies from the government. They will also have to charge rents according to the Build and Grow Rent Policy.
Aboriginal community housing providers who do not qualify as Approved providers may be registered as Headlease providers, and will be asked to headlease their properties to the AHO, which will then sublet the properties to an Approved provider (which will, in turn, sublet the properties to tenants and manage them as Aboriginal community housing). Headleased properties will be eligible for backlog repairs funding.
Before the Build and Grow strategy was introduced, rent setting in Aboriginal community housing varied a lot, and many tenants paid very low rents.
Where the Build and Grow Rent Policy applies, each Aboriginal community housing tenancy has a ‘property rent’ (like ‘market rent’ in public housing or community housing) and a ‘household rent’, determined by the type and size of the tenant’s household. Unlike rebated rents in public housing and community housing, household rents are not related to household income. You will pay the lower of the two amounts.
If you are an existing tenant, there are transitional arrangements: your rent will be reviewed and increased every six months until it reaches the property rent or household rent (whichever is lower). If you’ve been paying less than $80 per week, your rent will be increased to $80 per week and reviewed and increased six-monthly until the property or household rent is reached.
Registered Aboriginal community housing providers are social housing landlords, so can use all the methods of termination available to landlords generally, as well those that apply specifically to social housing tenancy agreements.
Recently, and for a brief period, Local Aboriginal Land Councils that proposed to terminate a tenancy had to put the proposal to a vote of the Council’s members. (This requirement was the result of the decision of the NSW Land and Environment Court in Woods v Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council NSWLEC 42.) An amendment to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983(NSW) commencing January 2012 overturned this requirement, so termination proceedings can be commenced by the executive of the Council, without a vote of the members.