PERHAPS … it is time to not only securely house … a growing sector of Australians at risk … in Public Housing … but building this form of infrastructure would also boost Our Economy!
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Older female renters are the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for housing affordability
28 AUGUST 2019
Helen, 72, and her 80-year-old husband Peter have been renting in outer suburban Melbourne for the past seven years.
They were once homeowners but sold up 15 years ago to take a short trip around Australia.
They put most of the money into super, but ended up losing most of it in the 2008 global financial crisis. Now they’re on the aged pension.
Helen says they are lucky to be living in a private rental in Craigieburn in Melbourne, but it’s expensive and they are worried about the future.
“[The rent] costs one whole pension, which only leaves us the other one to pay all the bills,” Helen said.
“At the moment we can manage but Peter’s 80 — who knows which one of us will croak first?
“When one dies, the other one doesn’t have the hope of paying the rent on one pension.”
The rent has increased $30 since they first started renting.
“If it goes up any more we’ll find it very hard. As it is, we can’t use the heating in the winter because it’s so expensive,” Helen said.
But Peter and Helen say they don’t really have the option to move, having struggled to get a rental early on.
“To find a place to rent, someone else will offer more money. We haven’t got a hope. They don’t want us,” Helen said.
“Apart from the fact we’re old, they don’t want us. They want younger people with a good income — we’re only pensioners.”
They are among a growing number of Australians facing rental stress in their retirement.
Home ownership rates are falling and mortgage debts are rising for many older Australians, according to a report by the Australian Housing and Research Institute.
Mortgage debt worsening mental health in older Australians
A new study says older Australians are finding it increasingly difficult to pay off their mortgage before they retire — with the research even causing the lead author of the report to feel insecure.
The report also found the number of private renters in the 54-64 age group is projected to increase by over 50 per cent to 567,000 in 2031.
For those over 65 years old, many of whom are eligible for the aged pension, the increase was even more acute, with those renting expected to double in the same time range to 543,000.
And it’s getting harder for older renters to find adequate and secure housing.
*Older women are particularly at risk due to systemic issues like the gender pay gap during their working life, longer life expectancy and generally having less super than men.
“They are the canary in the coal mine,” Western Sydney University urban cultural geographer Dr Emma Power said.
“There’s going to be more and more people over time who are not homeowners who will either have a mortgage or be in the private rental market on retirement.”
Why does it matter?
It’s important because, until now, owning your home outright has been a key pillar of most people’s retirement strategy and is supported by government policy.
The aged pension assumes a person will be living in a paid-off house and is not counted as part of the pensions’ assets test.
“For people paying private market rents, they’re finding they have to pay for those housing costs alongside the other assumed costs a homeowner will be paying,” Fiona York from the Housing for the Aged Action Group, which specialises in the housing needs of older people, said.
For private renters on the pension, it’s having a huge flow-on effect to their quality of life.
“The women I’ve researched have had difficulties paying their electricity costs, maintaining heating and cooling,” Dr Power said.
“They’ve had difficulties being able to afford food and are dependent on charities like food kitchens and banks in their local neighbourhood.
“These issues are going to be more widespread in Australia over time unless we do something urgently to tackle the issue.”
Mary had to quit her private rental after losing her job
Mary Ann Wright has been a life-long renter.
Now aged 57, she has spent years worried about finding a suitable place to live.
“Then I lost my job and that’s when everything just spiralled downhill,” she said.
She struggled to be able to keep up with rental payments after she lost her job, and eventually had to leave her place.
“I’m basically stuck on a low income and trying to survive — I’m on the Newstart allowance,” she said.
Ms Wright is too young to access the aged pension or her super, although she has been able to receive a one-off payment from super to pay off an electricity bill.
“There’s a lot of shame, a lot of embarrassment,” she said.
She was able to find social housing shortly after leaving her private rental, but says she’s one of the lucky ones.
Dr Power says there is a “real failure in private housing” and a need for more affordable housing.
“Rents are going up, investors are doing well and this group of people can’t afford to have a roof over their head,” she said.How good is renting in Australia?
Renters say they lack security, live in substandard housing and worry about eviction.
Ms York says at the moment the main policy fix is an “increase in public and social housing… where the rent is set at 25-30 per cent of your income no matter what your income is.”
“That’s the most secure tenure you can have for an older person — a guarantee to stay as long as you need.”
For couples on the aged pension, just 3 per cent of private rental listings across Australia were affordable, according to the 2019 Anglicare Rental Affordability Report.
It was even worse for a single person on the aged pension, with just 1 per cent of rentals affordable.
The expected increase in private renters means more people will be eligible for government rental assistance, estimated to increase by 60 per cent to 664,000.
But with the maximum rate of payment less than $140 a fortnight for people without dependent children — it usually doesn’t cover much of the rent.
The unmet demand for public housing is expected to double to 440,000 households in 2031, according to the AHRI report.
“Unless you can show multiple complexities in your life, it’s very difficult to get access to public housing,” Dr Power said.
What other reform is needed?
The housing experts say along with creating more affordable housing, changes need to be made to tenancy regulations.
The average lease tends to be between six to 12 months in Australia and currently in NSW at least, the landlord can evict a tenant for any reason.
“The rental laws [in many states] mean you can be evicted at any time,” Ms York said.
“We are seeing people having to move in their 70s and 80s.”For renters, affordability is just the start
If we want renting to become a truly viable, long-term alternative to home ownership, greater rental affordability and security is needed, writes research fellow Emma Power.
Moving also has a huge emotional and financial cost — paying for removalists, reconnecting utilities, even saving up for the bond before the old bond is released.
“Many women said they don’t have a sense of home, some women didn’t unpack boxes as they knew they’d be moving soon,” Dr Power said.
*The experts want laws to remove the ability for landlords to evict people for no reason. Victoria is already looking to make these changes next year.
“It’s rare to find a rental property you can age in,” Dr Power said.
A change to the rights of tenants to make mobility modifications to the house would also help people stay in rentals for longer.
“In most states there’s no requirement for a landlord to approve mobility-related adaptions that might be necessary for an older person requiring those modifications,” Dr Power said.
“That’s a real challenge older people will face if they’re aging in rental properties and it’s much more likely these older people will have to move into a nursing home.”
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