Monday, May 22, 2006

Public housing for aborigines

Looking at this photo of an aboriginal kitchen from The Australian one might ask where’s the Spray & Wipe? Apart from the dirt, the dog and the food scraps lying around it is not a bad looking kitchen. There is a modern stove and what looks like a freezer. The kitchen itself is not faulty but the care taken of it is appalling. Building new public housing for this house's occupants might not help to improve their living standard - at least in the longer-term - as much as one might think.

The story with the photo sees the housing as simply sub-standard. The house is 40 years old and, the story claims, should be demolished. On this basis my own home should be demolished since it was built in 1923. Its not right. A basic issue is that those living in the public housing illustrated either don’t know how to look after their home or don't have incentives to do so. It may be an instance of ‘traditional tribal societies colliding with the 21st century’ but the lack of care stands out. This means that measures to help aborigines by providing public housing are both expensive and ineffective.

The article argues that health problems and sexual abuse of children are related to overcrowding - I will post on that separately although one can see from the photo that health concerns here will not only be related to crowding. The picture suggests that aborigines need basic education on issues of house care and maintenance - buying expensive capital assets and throwing dollars at their occupants won't in itself resolve aboriginal problems.

2 comments:

Christine said...

I am reminded of my grandmother's insistence that there was no point building houses for aborigines because they'd just tear them down to get some firewood. So nice to see you mention incentives and knowledge here.

Any thoughts about how education works in this case? What are the incentives? Any chance of ever selling the house (thus an incentive to keep it nice and update older housing as necesary)? And where is the nearest shop selling SpraynWipe? (Not apparently that it is particularly good to be too clean either ...) Lots of questions, of course, and nothing remotely approaching an answer. Sorry bout that.

Jan said...

Harry,
I agree with you completely on this one. There is a similar situation with gypsies in a number of East European countries; some pictures even depict them as having an open fire in the middle of the kitchen...The current policy leads to a classic moral hazard problem - moving them to new places provides all the more incentives for the occupants to destroy the old place. Christine's idea of them being able to sell the house one day is an interesting one, do you think it may work (for someone with arguably a high rate of discounting?)