According to the Northern Territory (NT) government, 21 of its remote communities now have additional living spaces, all built under a 10-year, $1.1 billion remote housing program, known as ‘Our Community. Our Future. Our Homes’ and part of the Territory Labor Government’s ‘Room to Breathe’ initiative designed to ease indigenous overcrowding.

The NT minister for Housing and Community Development, Gerry McCarthy says his government is making progress on a key election promise to tackle overcrowding in remote Aboriginal communities with additional living spaces work underway or completed in Ampilatwatja, Areyonga, Beswick, Bulman, Engalwala, Gapuwiyak, Hermannsburg, Kintore, Kybrook Farm, Lajamanu, Maningrida, Milikapiti, Milyakburra, Ngukurr, Numbulwar, Ramingining, Titjikala, Wadeye, Wurrmiyanga, Warruwi and Weemol.

“We promised to deliver the biggest remote innovative housing project in Territory history and it is happening – we are doing what we said we would do,” McCarthy says.

“This project is so important because we know a good home leads to a good education, good health and good community outcomes - that’s why we fast tracked $10 million for Room to Breathe before our first budget began this year,” he says.

“I am proud to say 146 additional living spaces have begun to ease overcrowding in 21 communities – local people have been employed for this work which has been guided by local decisions.”

The NT has the worst rates of homelessness and overcrowding in the country, with Aboriginal families making up 98 per cent of those living in severely overcrowded conditions, according to the NT government.

Following an NT royal commission which found that in some remote communities, anywhere up to 30 people could be living under the same roof with kids sleeping on the floor, was a key driver of youngsters entering the child protection and detention systems.

McCarthy acknowledged this issue has been overlooked for too long, and has led to indigenous children having learning difficulties, and has encouraged criminal behaviour.

 “Our remote housing program isn’t only about bricks and mortar, but it’s about improving homes so children and their families have a healthy environment to live in – we want to give children a good start in life, it’s the right thing to do and the smart thing to do,” he says.

A release from the NT government notes that although the program is primarily focussed on a range of housing solutions, “the purpose of the program is to put people first, not assets, from working closely with communities to identify their housing needs to ensuring the work benefits Aboriginal businesses and leads to job creation and capacity development.”

“We have an enormous task to address decades of need, but work is underway to improve remote housing,” McCarthy says.