New plan for Aboriginal homes

By: Tony Koch, Sarah Elks

THE Queensland government will tackle the dearth of indigenous home ownership by stripping from valuations the high cost of building in remote communities and offering staggered mortgages.
Aboriginal community councils, which own much of the existing housing, would use actual value rather than replacement cost as the yardstick, under the plan to be released today.
This could enable a house that cost more than $400,000 to build to be revalued at a market rate of as little $80,000 -- the value of a comparative house in a nearby non-indigenous community.
A discussion paper illustrates how under a new system of 99-year leases, Aboriginal families could build their own homes with a staggered mortgage of $225,000.
A case study in an accompanying discussion paper says an indigenous couple with a joint income of $110,000 a year would pay off a 20-year staggered mortgage at $1230 a month for the first 12 years, after which repayments would drop to $480.
Currently, most homes in Queensland indigenous communities are at a tariff based on the household income, capped at a maximum of $650 a month.
However, because of high transport and other costs that result in homes on communities costing more than $400,000 to construct, ownership is possible for only a minute proportion of residents.
It has been impossible to get a bank or other lender to support a house purchase because of the unclear tenure that is available and the lack of security.
Nationally, indigenous home ownership stood at 36 per cent in 2006 compared with 69 per cent non-indigenous home ownership.
The federal and Queensland governments have recently agreed, under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing, to build more than 1100 new homes and upgrade another 1200 over the next decade. Queensland laws now provide for councils to grant 99-year leases on house blocks in communities. It is similar to a tenure system operating in the ACT, where the territory government has ownership of the land and grants the leases.
Queensland Housing Minister Karen Struthers yesterday said indigenous Queenslanders had the same right as non-indigenous people to own their own homes, and it was the government's aim to facilitate that right. ``They want the same opportunities as other Australians to own their own homes and pass them on to their children, and there is no reason why that shouldn't happen.
``My department has recently started valuing homes on indigenous communities against similar properties in nearby communities, rather than looking at replacement cost,'' she said.
``Market valuations by the department have put the value of these homes in the range of $80,000 to $150,000, depending on the size, condition and location of the dwelling.''
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Minister Desley Boyle said the Bligh government was determined to take this issue out of the ``too-hard basket'' and provide real opportunities for home ownership on communities.
The Mayor of Yarrabah Council, near Cairns, Percy Neal, yesterday said home ownership was imperative for his people; some had been waiting almost 20 years to sort out land tenure so they could arrange to have a home built.
Mr Neal said he supported the 99-year lease system if freehold was not available. ``We have 4000 people on this community in 350 homes, so do the maths and you will soon see what our problem is.''
Any positive news about the possibility of home ownership is welcomed by Yarrabah locals Les and Petrina Bassani and their five children, who have their eye on a block on a new housing estate on the picturesque coastal community. They currently rent a four-bedroom house for $85 a week.
Les, 41, is a boilermaker and Petrina is a finance officer with the Gurriny Yealamucka Health Services. Their oldest son, Troyson, 19, is in the second year of his government and politics degree at Griffith University in Brisbane.
``We are excited by the 99-year lease situation, and are desperate to get into our own home so that eventually we can leave something for our children,'' Mrs Bassani said.
``The land which the council is providing will cost about $20,000 and our final commitment depends on how much it costs to build the house we want, but it will be around $200,000, we expect.
``Les and I will be going to the IBA (Indigenous Business Australia) and our own bank to get advice and help with getting a home.''
The IBA runs two programs to encourage indigenous home ownership. One is the Home Ownership on Indigenous Land program, which allows indigenous people to buy houses in certain indigenous communities.
However, in this year's budget, nearly $60 million of unused funds from the program was transferred to another scheme, after implementation of HOIL was slower than anticipated.