Introduction by Croakey: (Updated on 16 August 2023). National Cabinet has announced a major housing package, including an incentive for states and territories to try to boost the five-year million home target by 200,000 under the National Housing Accord.
As urged by housing and community groups (though not meeting Greens demands), National Cabinet also agreed to progressively strengthen renters’ rights, particularly on grounds for eviction mid-lease, phasing in minimum rental standards, and moving towards limited rent increases to once a year.
The agreement comes as the Federal Government has just kicked off consultations on its long-awaited new ten-year National Housing and Homelessness Plan.
Housing and Homelessness Minister Julie Collins is calling for input on its Issues Paper from local governments, community organisations, industry bodies, superannuation funds and other experts in housing, finance and urban development.
Given the critical connection between housing and health, Croakey hopes health organisations and others with health expertise will also submit their feedback on the paper.
As the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association said in its latest bulletin to members, “having access to safe and affordable housing is a key social determinant of health, with many Australians currently facing poorer health outcomes as a consequence of the standard of their living conditions”.
Homelessness Australia is calling on the Government to set a bold ambition to end homelessness, saying the major drivers are inadequate incomes, inadequate supply of affordable homes, domestic and family violence, racism and discrimination, and child abuse and neglect.
The peak body has joined with First Nations leaders in calling for a separate and self-determined First Nations National Housing and Homelessness Plan, to address the unique issues resulting in a ten-fold overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in homelessness.
It’s essential that the Plan considers the voices, experiences, concerns and aspirations of older people, according to the authors of a new report: Ageing in a housing crisis.
They outline, below, the growing crisis for older people and what’s needed to address their precarity, in an article originally published at The Conversation, with the headline: Ageing in a housing crisis: growing numbers of older Australians are facing a bleak future.
Emma Power, Amity James, Francesca Perugia, Margaret Reynolds, Piret Veeroja and Wendy Stone write:
The collision between an ageing population and a housing crisis has left more older people in Australia enduring housing insecurity and homelessness. Our research explores how the scale of these problems among older people has grown over the past decade.
Our report, Ageing in a Housing Crisis, shows safe, secure and affordable housing is increasingly beyond the reach of older people. This growing housing insecurity is system-wide. It’s affecting hundreds of thousands of people across all tenures, including home owners and renters.
The Federal Government released Australia’s first national wellbeing framework, Measuring What Matters last month. It recognises “financial security and access to housing” as essential for a secure, inclusive and fair society.
However, urgent policy action is needed to reshape the Australian housing system so all older people have secure, affordable housing.
Older people are increasingly at risk
We analysed the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) census data and homelessness estimates. More older people lived in marginal housing – defined by the ABS as including crowding (less severe), improvised dwellings and caravans – and more were homeless in 2021 than a decade earlier.
Older people experiencing homelessness by gender and category in 2011, 2016 and 2021
The proportion of older people in private rental housing has also increased. This means more older people are exposed to the insecurity of renting and rising rents. Our work shows they are struggling to afford private rental housing.
The lowest-income households are the hardest hit. The private rental market is failing to supply housing they can afford. The shortfall in subsidised social housing is huge.
Older people who receive government benefits and allowances are at most risk because their incomes are not keeping up with housing costs.
In 2019-20 only 19% of older people on very low incomes (the lowest 20% of household incomes) lived in households whose rent was affordable. This means four out of five were spending more than 30% of their income on rent (the affordability benchmark for low-income households). Two in five were paying severely unaffordable rents – more than 50% of their income.
For older people who don’t own their homes, rising housing prices create financial risk rather than windfall. At the same time, more older people have mortgages. This increases their risk of housing insecurity or financial stress in retirement.
Ageing magnifies unaffordable housing impacts
Rising housing costs, falling home ownership rates, mortgage debt carried into retirement, insecure private rental tenures and the worsening shortage of social housing are markers of system-wide housing insecurity.
Insecure or marginal housing affects all generations. However, for older people the risks are made worse by limited income-earning ability, increasing frailty, illness and/or caring responsibilities, growing need for at-home support, and age-based discrimination. These factors make it even harder to meet rising housing costs.
Housing insecurity widens the gap between the housing older people have and the housing they need to live safe, secure and dignified lives as they age.
Growing housing insecurity among older people is a result of system-wide problems. This means system-wide solutions are needed.
We call for:
- adequate social housing supply that reflects population growth and ensures it’s available for older people across all states and territories, including by increasing aged-specific options and reducing the age at which social housing applicants are given priority to 45-55
- stronger national tenancy regulations that prioritise homes over profit
- dedicated marginal and specialist homelessness services that are well designed with and for older people who have experienced housing insecurity and support systems
- support for people to remain in their own homes, across all tenures.
Responses and assistance models must allow for gender diversity, income difference, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people’s cultural needs, as well as those of other culturally and linguistically diverse older people. Disability, caring responsibilities, history of trauma, and individuals’ unique housing pathways and experiences must all be considered.
Older people must have a say in reshaping the housing system. The Albanese Government is developing a National Housing and Homelessness Plan. It’s essential that this plan, along with state, territory and local government implementation plans, consider the voices, experiences, concerns and aspirations of older people.
Housing reform is good for everyone
Older people are only one part of the population facing housing insecurity and homelessness. A comprehensive national housing plan must respond to all generational needs. Housing solutions for older people must not come at the expense of – or compete with – the needs of other generations.
Housing insecurity and homelessness in childhood, younger years and early adult life all warrant meaningful and urgent housing solutions. Making sure all people have lifelong access to secure housing will begin to reverse the growing problems identified by our report. Otherwise, Australia faces a future where more and more older people struggle with inadequate and unaffordable housing.
National reform that includes a focus on generational needs can deliver a housing system that provides affordable homes for everyone. This will ensure everyone is able to maintain community connections, which for older people means being able to age in safe, secure and affordable homes.
About the authors
Emma Power is Associate Professor, Geography and Urban Studies, Western Sydney University
Amity James is Associate Professor and Discipline Lead Property, Curtin University
Francesca Perugia is Senior Lecturer, School of Design and the Built Environment, Curtin University
Margaret Reynolds is Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology
Piret Veeroja is Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology
Wendy Stone is Professor of Housing & Social Policy, Centre for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology
Read Croakey’s archive of stories on housing