By ERWIN CHLANDA
The controversial tender for “Provision of Tenancy Management Services” to town camps is now water under the bridge, but today’s national focus on Closing the Gap (or not) has prompted the Central Land Council to say that big improvements in Aboriginal housing will be needed for things to change.
As if to underscore this, the majority of tenants in Santa Teresa are taking unprecedented legal action against the NT government over long delays in urgent housing repairs.
The town camps tenancy tender recently awarded is a good example of the bureaucratic inefficiencies in the system as well as the hollow rhetoric of the debate.
The work was taken from an Indigenous company, Central Australian Affordable Housing Company (CAAHC), and given to a non-Indigenous one, Zodiac.
Aboriginal and other non-government organisations soon pumped out media releases objecting vociferously. Their message: Anything that’s Indigenous must have an Indigenous NGO looking after it.
But not much was heard from the tenants themselves about their experience of the maintenance regime for their houses. Alice Springs News Online called in on two camps.
Marcia Sampson (below, left) in the Old Timers Camp said half her power fuse box hasn’t been working for a year.
Dennis Brown (top, right) next-door hasn’t had a properly functioning airconditioner for a year, has been unable to get his fence repaired so he can keep out unwanted visitors, and the grass is waste-high, potentially concealing snakes coming down from the nearby hill.
CAAHC was complaining bitterly about losing the contract to a non-Indigenous company, with co-ordinated media statements from friendly groups:
The Central Land Council said it had “received nothing but poor feedback about Zodiac Business Services from remote community tenants, with complaints ranging from Zodiac staff being rude to tenants, entering their houses without knocking to failing to attend to even the most basic repair and maintenance issues”.
The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress said it “continues to support the need for services that are provided to Aboriginal people being delivered by Aboriginal community controlled organisations and this includes the vitally important community housing sector”.
NT Shelter said CAAHC should have been given the contract again because “the benefits of supporting residents to thrive by having housing management provided by a well-credentialed Aboriginal community housing organisation … cannot be underestimated. These benefits are both social and financial, impacting positively on the public purse.”
But what is happening on the ground, with Housing Minister Bess Price in charge, is the stuff of comedy.
Territory Housing, which is non-Indigenous, looks after Indigenous people living in public housing in non-Indigenous suburbs.
Indigenous people living in Indigenous town camps, by contrast, will report a defect (around 2200 a year, an average of eight per house) to Non-Indigenous Zodiac which in turn will pass it on to the new holder of the Property Management Contract, the Indigenous Tangentyere Construction.
They will send out a Housing Maintenance Officer who will assess the job – say, a leaking tap. They will judge if a tradesman is needed. If not, they will fix the problem.
If the job does need a tradesman they will advise non-Indigenous Territory Housing who will then assign one of its five panel contractors, all believed to be non-Indigenous.
It is hard to fathom why non-Indigenous Territory Housing cannot also look after Indigenous people in Indigenous public housing located in Indigenous town camps.
Or why the tenants can’t contact the department or Territory Housing direct.
Why is it necessary to interpolate an organisation costing the taxpayer more than half a million dollars a year between the complaining tenant and the authority which arranges the repair?
We wanted to ask Ms Price, who is Indigenous, but she wouldn’t agree to an interview. She approved the Zodiac contract worth $700,000 over 16 months.
The tender prepared by Ms Price’s department says it “aims to maintain the quality and lifecycle of the houses under its management, whilst increasing the opportunities for employment and training for local residents”.
That – with a little imagination – could be interpreted as meaning: “Let’s give Mr Brown a whipper-snipper for a day so he can mow the grass.”
We would have liked to put that to Ms Price but … well, see above.
CAAHC won’t say how much they tendered but it makes the point that while Ms Price awarded the work on price (no pun intended), that was only meant to be a minor consideration.
The process is supposed to apply “Percentage Weightings & Assessment Criteria” which apportions, expressed in percentages, the importance that must be attributed to the various considerations.
In this case it was a mere 10% for price, and 25% for capacity, 20% each for local development & value adding and scope specific criteria, 15% for past performance and another 10% for timeliness.
This is for a task that may consist of, on the face of it, little more than sending an email to Tangentyere Construction saying: “Mr Brown needs to have his lawn mowed.”
CAAHC’s John McBryde says Territory Housing “ignored” the weighting requirements and the decision was made 100% on price.
There was discontent not only at the Old Timers camp, but also at Abbott’s Camp.
Doris Abbott described the “past performance” of CAAHC as “real slack”: Broken fences, painting needing to be done, a broken stove, and two houses empty because of repairs not done for what she considered an unacceptably long time.
Of course it must be born in mind that any glitches may have occurred down the line from CAAHC which was the frontline contact.
“Territory Housing were responsible for all repairs and maintenance and vacant houses,” says CAAHC.
Mrs Abbott’s neighbour, Corinna Napangardi (at right), says broken windows and a malfunctioning airconditioner are interfering with getting her kids off to school on time and homework when they come back.
Meanwhile CAAHC had to sack staff but continues to look after 13 dwellings it owns in Bloomfield Street, bought with a $4.3m Aboriginal Benefit Account grant.
These dwellings are let out to working Aboriginal people on a subsidised rent, no-profit basis.
Zodiac is now providing services to 270 town camp dwellings: 15 in Morris Soak, 16 Charles Creek, 4 Kunoth, 15 Anthepe, 7 Palmers, 47 Hidden Valley, 14 Hoppy’s, 9 Warlpiri, 22 Little Sisters, 2 Basso’s Farm, 19 Karnte, 34 Larapinta, 11 Mount Nancy, 6 Abbott’s, 13 New Ilparpa, 26 Trucking Yards, and 10 Old Timers.
By ERWIN CHLANDA