Graduate wins UN award for Indigenous housing program

17 November 2011

A collage featuring Paul Pholeros (far right) receiving the award and some Health Habitat employees.
A collage featuring Paul Pholeros (far right) receiving the award and some Health Habitat employees.

University of Sydney architecture graduate Paul Pholeros has won a prestigious World Habitat Award for his Housing for Health program, which has made a major difference to the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The project was one of two selected from over 250 entries from 82 countries around the world and was awarded at the United Nations global celebration of World Habitat Day in Aguascalientes, Mexico in early October.

Pholeros's not-for-profit company Health Habitat, which runs the Housing for Health program in Australia, aims to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by ensuring they have access to a safe and well-functioning house, and an improved living environment.

Health Habitat works with and employs the paid labour of Aboriginal communities to repair existing homes and train local people in basic repair and maintenance skills.

"We are extremely proud to see that the principles of Health Habitat have been accepted internationally," said Pholeros, who graduated from the University of Sydney in 1974 (Bachelor of Science, Architecture) and 1997 (Bachelor of Architecture, Honours).

"We are in the process of touring the trophy around the country so everyone can be proud of the work they have done."

Many Indigenous people have a pattern of poor health characterised by high rates of infectious disease and diabetes, vascular disease and obesity.

The proven connections between a healthy living environment and good health outcomes underpin the nine healthy living practices, which Pholeros and co-directors (thoracic physician Dr Paul Torzillo and public health officer Stephan Rainow) pioneered when they established Health Habitat in the 1980s.

The nine practices - now part of current federal and state government policy - include life-threatening safety issues such as electricity, washing people, washing clothes and bedding, removing waste water safely, improving nutrition with the ability to store, prepare and cook food, and reducing the health impacts of dust.

Knowledge gained through the Housing for Health projects has been used to develop a national Indigenous housing design code that respects cultural traditions and norms.

The Housing for Health program uses a 'survey-and-fix' method for testing whether the houses are safe to live in and can sustain a healthy living environment.

At first glance this may seem a simple thing, yet building works in remote Indigenous communities have in the past been wracked with problems and accountability issues.

Health Habitat teams have successfully surveyed and fixed more than 7300 homes in 184 communities - about one-third of Australia's Indigenous houses.

The World Habitat Awards were established in 1985 by the Building and Social Housing Foundation as part of its contribution to the United Nation's International Year of Shelter for the Homeless.

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