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Housing, crime and communities : what are the answers?

Media Release

26 April 2002

Improving the social fabric of Australia's most disadvantaged communities is a challenge being faced daily in our cities.

This challenge, and how it is being tackled by organisations and individuals such as police services, local government, housing officers and residents, will be explored at an upcoming conference being held in Melbourne. Housing Crime and Stronger Communities, co-hosted by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) and the Australian Institute of Criminology, (AIC) is to be held on 6-7 May 2002.

The forum will share findings about proactive approaches to reducing crime and improving amenity for people who live in disadvantaged areas, including public housing estates. For example, physical changes - improved security and building design; and long-term community changes - supporting and empowering communities to improve their own circumstances.

Interview opportunities/news grabs during the conference can be arranged with the following spokespeople:

  • Rev Tim Costello, Collins Street Baptist Church
  • Jennifer Westacott, Executive Director, Housing and Community Buildings, Department of Human Services Victoria
  • Dr Owen Donald, Executive Director, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI)

AHURI is Australia's largest collaborative venture in the social sciences. It aims to assist governments, private industry and the community to improve housing, housing policies and urban/regional development. AHURI conducts and disseminates rigorous, independent research into current housing, urban and regional issues with the aim of informing policy-making and stimulating public debate.

The Australian Institute of Criminology, a federal government agency, is Australia's national centre for the analysis and dissemination of criminological data and information.

Full details and program are available at: http://www.aic.gov.au/conferences/housing/ or via http://www.ahuri.edu.au/

WHAT: Housing Crime and Stronger Communities Conference, 6- 7 May 2002
WHERE: Carlton Crest Hotel, 65 Queens Road, Melbourne
WHEN: Monday 6 May and Tuesday 7 May, 2002

BACKGROUNDER

URBAN/SOCIAL RENEWAL - EMPOWERING RESIDENTS TO MAKE CHANGE

The concept of social exclusion and the proactive response of neighbourhood renewal are central concepts to be discussed at the conference. Social exclusion is a shorthand term for what can happen when people or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown. Neighbourhood renewal is about tackling the root causes of deprivation through improvements to mainstream public services, and the involvement of people in their own communities. By raising standards in areas such as education and health, there is a focus on changing and improving the prospects of people who live in deprived neighbourhoods.

Neighbourhood renewal is a combination of two different approaches - urban renewal and social or community renewal. Urban renewal focuses on physical property, such as the redesign of public housing estates to improve their appearance and safety (for example, closing walkways that might attract particular drug or crime problems). However, research suggests that physical renewal alone is inadequate for tackling social problems. Initiatives focusing on social renewal, such as anti-crime units, neighbourhood watch concepts and an emphasis on employment and training of individuals are also necessary.

The aim is to provide the resources and support to allow local people to make improvements themselves. Local people and organisations can easily identify the problems they face and propose solutions. Neighbourhood renewal is also about removing barriers so that local people can ensure these solutions are implemented. For example: ensuring local people get the necessary training and support to enable them to participate fully in the decision-making process.

The Housing Crime and Stronger Communities Conference will showcase a range of neighbourhood renewal projects and two research papers from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) dealing with renewal strategies.

AHURI researchers, Bruce Judd, Robert Samuels and Martin Wood of the AHURI UNSW-UWS Research Centre, are actively involved in researching the experience of revitalising disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Judd and Samuels are mapping the reported crimes and experience of victimisation on three public housing estates over a five year period to determine what impact renewal strategies have had in these areas.

Wood's research examines specific barriers to resident participation in neighbourhood renewal. Identifying these barriers assists state housing authorities and community organisations to overcome them. For example, locals involved in the neighbourhood renewal process can often find the process itself intimidating. People can experience a high degree of anxiety in response to an invitation to participate in a meeting and the formality of the meeting agenda. Such feedback helps modify the process - for example, encouraging the use of plain language and keeping meetings small and informal.

Research, such as that conducted by AHURI, is a powerful tool that helps local and national partners pinpoint problems and target solutions more effectively to renew the most deprived neighbourhoods. By doing so, it will help to ensure that residents are able to play an inclusive and effective role in their own neighbourhood renewal.