FINALIST - IE HOUSES FOR CHANGE COMPETITION (2013)
Collaboration with Bethany Edgoose
Limbox is a housing solution, a political statement, and an urban revitalisation project. Part built solution and part online strategy, Limbox provides affordable housing for asylum seekers whilst also facilitating community building and data collection. Limbox aims to provide asylum seekers in Melbourne with the best possible chance of recovery and integration, and aims to provide the Melbournian community with the best possible chance to get to know asylum seekers face to face.
Asylum seekers arriving in Australia by plane submit their refugee application to DIAC. Asylum seekers contact a community support organisation for help with accommodation. An organisational case-worker helps asylum seekers to access the Limbox website. Asylum seekers create a profile with demographic information and their preferences for where they want to live. This profile is matched against a list of sites available for the construction of Limbox. Asylum seekers select a site and then design the orientation and layout of their Limbox. The community organisation places an order for the Limbox. The Limbox is fabricated off-site, and constructed at the chosen location over a single day. During their time living in the house, Asylum Seekers may pay an upkeep cost to their support organisation. When Asylum Seekers gain permanent residency or leave Australia, the Limbox returns to the organisation. New asylum seekers can now move into the house. The funds from the upkeep cost can be used for any repairs or to transport or reconfigure the unit.
Historically, Melbourne is a city built by boat people. From England, Ireland, China and Afghanistan – they built roads, cleared land, and mined gold. After WWII immigrants from Italy, Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia arrived, followed by refugees from Indochina, Chile, and Poland. Fleeing war and economic collapse, immigrant communities brought to Melbourne new food, religions, languages, and celebrations.
Immigrant communities in Melbourne moved into working-class slums around the city centre. Congregating together, they established communities with distinct cultural identities. Carlton, Brunswick, Coburg, Richmond, Collingwood – once synonymous with poverty, these areas are now among the most sought-after regions of the city. Vibrant and eclectic, they boast the culturally diverse restaurants, stores and markets that underpin Melbourne’s identity as a cosmopolitan city.
Over the past 10 years, new waves of immigrants have settled in cheaper areas. The international tourist market has fostered the spread of Asian eateries throughout the CBD, whilst Chinese migrants have shaped the economy of Springvale, and Sudanese migrants are expanding the population of Dandenong. From West Africa, Malaysia, India and the Philippines – Melbourne is now home to people from over 140 nations. Each migrant group adds commerce and culture to the urban fabric, spreading out from the city centre like an immigrant time map.
Asylum seekers could integrate with and enhance Melbourne’s existing cultural diversity. With more security and stability, asylum seekers could better support themselves as they rebuild their lives. Those that gain refugee status and become permanent residents would be better equipped to find work and become part of the urban community. One third of Melbournian refugees have post-high school qualifications and others are working in low skilled industries currently suffering from labour shortages. Helping asylum seekers to access secure housing and build social networks would ideally position them to become part of Melbourne.
The city of Melbourne is unusual in its spaciousness. A medium-to-low density city, Melbourne is a sprawling metropolis. Empty, no-purpose areas are overlooked and rarely visited, leaving dead spaces between laneways, next to train stations, behind shopping strips and on the edge of parks. Small pieces of land tucked within the CBD, or large wastelands in the outer suburbs, these areas are owned by the Crown or the Victorian government but are unsuitable for major development.
The Limbox process is deigned to build upon the existing role of community organisations in providing housing to asylum seekers. The online component of Limbox would simplify the process, whilst also serving as a data collection and communication tool. Under the Limbox system, all community organisations would be able to access a website detailing sites around Melbourne appropriate for the construction of Limbox. The profile of each site would include proximity to schools and services, and demographic data on the surrounding neighborhood and existing asylum seeker residents.
After contacting a community organisation to discuss their housing needs, an organisational case-worker would help asylum seekers to log onto the website (using their visa number) and create a personal profile with demographic data and their preferences in terms of the type of location they are looking for (for example; close to schools, within LOTE community, close to asylum seeker services). The website would then match the personal profile to the profile of various housing sites. After selecting a site, asylum seekers would be able to choose the orientation of their house, and the layout of the floor plates, including how various Limbox fit together (the size of the house would correspond to the number of people in the family or group). The organisation then places an order for a module, which is fabricated off-site and then transported and constructed in a single day. The module remains the property of the organisation. Asylum seekers may be required to pay an up-keep fee, proportionate to their means, which could be used to cover maintenance costs. Once asylum seekers either gain refugee status or leave Australia, the module returns to the organisation to be offered to new clients.