The average housing costs of older (65-plus) outright homeowners in lone-person households were A$38 a week in 2013-14, the Australian Bureau of Statistics calculated, compared to $103 for older social housing tenants and $232 for older private renters.Fortunately, over the last several decades almost all Australians who depend on the age pension for their income have been outright homeowners, and their housing costs have thus usually represented a small proportion of their pension. However, this situation is changing and the significance of this is profound.Drawing on 125 in-depth interviews conducted in Sydney and regional New South Wales (discussed in detail in my book, The Australian Dream: Housing Experiences of Older Australians), it is evident that these substantial differences in housing costs combined with differing levels of tenure security have a fundamental impact on the capacity of Australians dependent solely or primarily on the age pension to lead a decent life.The interviews I conducted with the older homeowners, particularly with couple households, indicated that provided they did not have extraordinary expenses (high medical bills, excessive smoking and or drinking, having to look after a child etc), they managed reasonably well on the age pension. They could run a car, engage in modest leisure activities, travel and even save.Margaret, who lived by herself, was content:Well I can [and] I do participate. I don’t go to the opera because that’s too expensive … I don’t go to live shows because they’re too expensive, but that’s okay. I do other things. I’m a very busy person.Although the housing costs of older social housing tenants are high relative to homeowners, the fact that their rent is pegged at 25% of their income means they have a fair amount of disposable income after paying for their accommodation.Betty, a social housing tenant, summed up their situation:In public housing you see, even if they’ve only got the old age pension, nothing else, because their rent is only a quarter [of their income], they manage, most of them quite well. People who don’t manage are the ones who drink, smoke a lot … or who have an illness that requires heavy expenditure on medication.In addition, historically, older social housing tenants have had guaranteed security of tenure. John spoke of the enormous benefits of this security:When you know your accommodation is right, this is especially when you’re older, you can pursue other interests. You’re more relaxed and I do feel, I really feel you’re in for a longer life you know … I’m quite content and I think it’s just wonderful that the government does supply these houses.Private renters live with insecurityMany older private renters live in a state of perpetual insecurity as they can be told to leave at any time. Lopolo from http://www.shutterstock.comThe third group, older private renters dependent on the age pension for their income, are in a completely different position. A large proportion of them are having to use a large proportion of their income to pay for their rent.Also, once their lease ends they can be asked to leave at any time – no grounds have to be given. The resulting perpetual insecurity combined with the cost of their housing is the basis for enormous anxiety and distress.Maggie, a private renter in Sydney, said:It [the age pension] is unrealistic. I mean I thank God for it because I’d never make ends meet otherwise. I really thank God for it, but it’s unrealistic. You cannot live on that. I mean what would you live on? It’s a joke. I was lucky that I had the income from working on the side … I couldn’t have lived like that without working a bit …Helen painted a bleak picture. Even though she was drawing the couple pension she was clearly suffering enormous psychological distress:Sometimes I think I’m too old for this. Maybe I’ll be dead in a year’s time and we wouldn’t have to worry about it. All the stress … I said to my doctor, ‘Why keep us alive when there’s nothing there for us?’ I said, ‘There’s no help for us,’ and she agreed with me … I told her we couldn’t get into a retirement village or even buy a caravan, or mobile home. We couldn’t even buy that. So we have a little bit of money but we can’t do anything with it. It’s not enough to help us.When I asked Janet, who had been a private renter for a long time, how she responded when she heard that she had been accepted for social housing, she said:I was absolutely, well, I sat down and cried. I literally sat down and cried because I felt like, well, at least I had the protection of the Department of Housing whereas before of course I didn’t have any of that. I had no protection whatsoever … My children were having children so they couldn’t [take care of me]. They’re just working-class people and so they couldn’t care for me … So consequently I couldn’t see any future at all until I got the word from Housing that I have got somewhere.Numbers of vulnerable older people are risingThe power o
OWCH is a group of women over fifty who have created our own community in a new, purpose-built block of flats in Union St., High Barnet, N. London. As an alternative to living alone, we have friendly, helpful neighbours.Finally, New Ground Cohousing is complete and OWCH members began moving into their new homes this week. We hope everyone will have moved in by early January. The last few exhausting and anxious months have taken their toll on many of us, but this will fade with time and rest. Our dream is being realised at long last.We are carving out a path for others in our age group to follow. We hope they have an easier journey than us, now we have shown the way. The senior cohousing community could enrich the last years of many, and reduce pressures on health and care services, if local authorities, planners, policy makers and developers helped remove the many obstacles society puts in its way
Researchers Sandy Darab and Yvonne Hartman from the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Southern Cross University in Lismore in NSW are completing new research into an issue they say is finally gaining some essential visibility.The pair began researching older women’s housing in 2011 and published the first report, called Understanding Single Older Women’s Invisibility in Housing Issues in Australia, in 2013. That research found that ageing and single status are compounding factors which place non-home owning women at higher risk of homelessness or inappropriate housing. They spoke to Pro Bono Australia News about their most recent research findings.L-R Researchers Sandy Darab & Yvonne HartmanDarab says academics are now working on raising the lid on the invisibility around older women’s precarious housing, which is “surprisingly showing up in significant numbers in regional Australia” if their latest research in the New South Wales region of the Northern Rivers is any indication.
Anette, 67, lives alone in a western suburb of Sydney, roughly 25 minutes by car from the CBD. She rents a one-bedroom flat nearby to her two young grandchildren, whom she helps to care for. When she is not caring for her grandchildren Annette works part-time as a teacher at a school for children with special needs. In addition to her pay, she receives a partial age pension, plus Rent Assistance, from Centrelink.“The rent is going up on my place, and it’s going up out of my reach,” Annette tells me, when we meet. Her total income comes to just over $2,000 a month, but she currently pays more than half of her income in rent, and she cannot afford the increase. She would like to remain in her current flat until the end of her six-month lease, but will be looking for somewhere else to live in the meantime. On her income it will be difficult to find affordable rent in Sydney, but with her work and family commitments she is not in a position to be able to leave the city either. “I’ve come to the point where I don’t know what’s going to happen to me,” she says.Annette is not alone in the uncertainty of her accommodation. The number of older women who are rental tenants in Australia is growing, and these women, if not already poor, are increasingly vulnerable to poverty and homelessness.