FUTURE: Affordable housing needs to be addressed.
FUTURE: Affordable housing needs to be addressed. Paul Vasarhelyi

Homelessness set to soar for senior Australians

VITAL ACTION NEEDED TO HOUSE SENIORS AS POPULATION REACHES BOILING POINT

CEO of Queensland's largest social and affordable housing provider, Horizon Housing, is calling for immediate affordable housing action for Australia's ever-increasing aging population - Words by Jason Cubit.

THE POPULATION PREDICAMENT

It's Australia's startling reality; earlier this year our population reached 25 million. An impressive yet eerie milestone for a figure that skipped the queue, arriving 33 years ahead of its original forecast. Like a visitor that drops by unannounced, 2018 has been abruptly greeted with a guest that wasn't due to arrive until 2051, and this visitor is here to stay. Yet, can our country possibly put a roof over the heads of 25 million people? My thoughts are yes, unequivocally, yes. But not until there is a strong commitment by the government to invest in growing affordable housing stock.

According to the last census, there are 3.7 million Australians over 65 years old. Within the next 40 years, an outstanding 1 in 4 Australians will form part of this demographic - that is approximately 8.7 million Australians over the age of 65.

The reality is homelessness is an alarming and very likely possibility for many seniors, more so than ever before.

Each year, Anglicare Australia conducts research on the current private rental market to assess if it's possible for low income earners to afford appropriate accommodation. This year's Rental Affordability Snapshot reveals a bleak landscape for single households living off the age pension. Of 67,365 properties listed for rent in March this year, there are approximately only 833 rental properties in Australia considered affordable and appropriate for single pensioners. This disconcerting number will only decrease as the first houses under the Government's National Rental Affordability Scheme begin to wind down in December this year.

WHO IS MOST AT RISK?

Over our 25 year history, Horizon Housing has identified an increasing trend in demand for housing from older people, particularly older single women unable to support themselves in the private market.

The affordability issue is driving older people, who historically were able to support themselves financially, into housing that's further away from their family and community, forcing them to relocate to more affordable locations with increased supply.

Older Australian women are particularly vulnerable to homelessness later-in-life. According to Mission Australia (2017), contributing factors include low superannuation funds available, financial dependence on the pension and domestic and family violence. Couple this with yesterday's systemic norm of

spending significant time out of the workforce to raise a family and we are left with more women who become susceptible to housing stress and homelessness with age.

It's a nation-wide tragedy that the average superannuation of women at retirement is about half of men (46.6 per cent), according to a study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2016). With figures as startling as this, where on earth do we even start?

THE SOLUTION

Horizon seeks to provide the affordable housing to those disadvantaged in our community. However, demand for services is - and will continue to be - staggeringly high. The Affordable Housing Portfolio has a waiting list reviewed every three months with an average of 250 applicants.

Approximately 16 per cent of our 2,500 properties across the Horizon Housing portfolio are tenanted by people over the age of 55. Of this number, 60 per cent rely on government assistance as their main source of income, with little money to spare by the end of the week.

The solution is three-fold. Increased, diverse affordable housing options, better support to age in place and an increased financial assistance for our pensioners is key. Easier said than done, yes, but I am confident that it can be done.


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