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Refugee Council of Australia
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SPK Housing Cooperative

This case study featured in our report, The Home Stretch, in 2014. We have not updated the information in this case study.

SPK is a housing cooperative established by the Hmong community in 1991. The Hmong community members were humanitarian entrants who came to Australia from Laos. Most of them settled in and around Innisfail in far North Queensland as they were able to find work on the banana plantations and they liked the tropical weather and the size of the town

Many people in the community of them had large families and it was difficult for them to find appropriately-sized houses in Innisfail. Furthermore, the sheer lack of housing was also causing situations where several families had to share houses leading to overcrowding. Even when the Hmong families moved to Cairns, which had a bigger pool of housing, there were numerous problems around the nature of six-month short term rentals and the impact this had on the children who had to move schools often

To overcome these challenges, Hmong community leaders approached the Minister for Immigration and raised the idea of a community housing program with a focus on four to seven bedroom houses that were appropriate for the size of many of the Hmong families. They followed this up by setting up the cooperative SPK (which means ‘helping each other’ in Hmong). The processes involved were hard and the lack of English language skills of even the community leaders made this even harder. Nevertheless, they succeeded in setting up the organisation and getting appropriate funding

Today SPK has 27 houses in Cairns including five in Innisfail. Most of these houses are larger in size and meet the needs of large families. However, there are more families on the waiting list and SPK have established a set of criteria which the Board of Directors uses to decide who will be accommodated

Besides the issues of size, SPK has also set a good precedent in terms of dealing with the cultural context of hospitality. As per their rules, a visiting family can stay for free for 21 days. Beyond that, the management will calculate their income and charge accordingly. Family members can stay for as long as necessary if the tenant (host family) is happy with the arrangement.

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