This research project developed a model of Australian Aboriginal house crowding in order to provide policy-makers with ways to predict, measure and manage Aboriginal household overcrowding.
The study drew on an existing subjective model of Indigenous overcrowding by environmental psychologist Robert Gifford (2007). This model differs from the density-based definitions of crowding typically used by policy-makers such as the Canadian occupation standard. Rather, the model identifies situations in which Aboriginal people feel crowded, the coping mechanisms that are utilised, and the cultural factors influencing the threshold of when crowding occurs.
This model was tested through empirical studies conducted in four locations; in Queensland (Mt Isa & Inala) and Western Australia (Carnarvon & Swan). The researchers found that cultural factors such as Indigenous peoples’ kin ties and mobility patterns were significant in increasing stresses of overcrowding. However, so too were broader societal and economic factors such as scarcity of housing in Indigenous communities. On the other hand, householders also used a range of strategies to cope with stress. The most important of these included firm administration of house rules by the householder, sharing visitors among kin, and keeping rules in organising the sleeping spaces of large households.
The study identified some differences between the regional urban and metropolitan case studies in each state, though these related more to the influence of the relative size of Indigenous populations in a location and the significance of public housing in influencing levels of stress in the different locations.
A key implication of the study is that crowding cannot be identified through density measures alone. This might presage work towards a combined density and stress model of crowding. The research has implications for government policies on Indigenous health, housing procurement, housing management, homelessness, town planning and appropriate house design. For example governments might:
Use this model to develop improved models of Indigenous crowding to better inform identification and measurement of secondary homelessness.
Carry out the construction of new housing stock (or extension of existing stock) to ensure there are adequate large houses (five & six-bedroom) in Aboriginal neighbourhoods in cities.
Reassess housing policies (such as Western Australia’s ‘three strikes’ policy) which add to stress, as those who are obliged to take people as visitors worry over their own tenure if they breach permitted numbers.
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