Housing insecurity hurting increasing number of over-55s

concerned man facing housing insecurity

New data shows older Australians are not immune to the housing insecurity crisis affecting tens of thousands across the country. Two separate reports released this month highlight the growing difficulties faced by older Australians aspiring to home ownership. In addition, the reports show an increase in rental stress for older Aussies, particularly those on lower incomes.

Between them, the reports reveal fewer older Australians own homes outright and a lack of policy reform to counter that. The reports, published by Swinburne University and the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) flag a potential crisis.

The Swinburne report, Ageing in a housing crisis: Older people’s insecurity and homelessness in Australia, reveals a drop in home ownership among older Aussies. In 2011, 62 per cent of Australians aged 55 and over lived in a home they owned outright. That figure had dropped to 58 per cent in 2021.

By contrast, there was an increase in the number of Australians aged 55 and over living in houses with a mortgage. This suggests Australians are taking longer to pay off mortgages.

The AHURI figures vary, citing home ownership rates of around 75 per cent for people aged 55 and over in 2019, with an estimated fall to 56 to 57 per cent by 2056. Differing definitions could explain that variation. For example, the AHURI’s figures might incorporate both outright and partial ownership.

Regardless of the measurement techniques, both reports point to a drop in home ownership among older Aussies.

The AHURI report, Inquiry into housing policies and practices for precariously housed older Australians, combines research from the University of South Australia, RMIT University, Curtin University and Flinders University.

What about renting?

The Swinburne report also points to increasing pressure on older renters. “Older people are increasingly struggling with housing affordability in the private rental sector,” the report says. It adds that “the lowest income households are the hardest hit.”

Their data shows that in 2019-20, 227,565 older people were living in very low and low income households and paying unaffordable rents. This represents an increase of 52 per cent in the decade from 2009-10 to 2019-20. However, that increase does not incorporate post-COVID data, so a further increase in the past three years is highly likely.

Housing insecurity solutions

The two reports take different approaches to potential solutions to the growing housing insecurity. First, Swinburne report authors have made four key recommendations to ease the burden for older renters. They have called 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.

Ownership alternatives

Second, the AHURI takes more of an ownership focus, identifying “composite alternative housing models”. The AHURI developed and tested the models through a survey of lower income households. Survey results showed a preference for a shared equity home ownership model, a cooperative housing model and a transportable model.

What happens next, be it national reform as called for by Swinburne or adoption of preferred AHURI models, remains unclear. But as the number of older Australians feeling insecure about housing rises, it’s clear that governments need to act. And those governments ­– federal and state – need to do so now.

Are you an older renter, owner or buyer? Have the events of recent years added to your sense of housing insecurity? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Will a rent freeze help or hinder housing shortfall?

Written by Andrew Gigacz

Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.

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One Comment

  1. One of the few that retired without a mortgage, but being burnt by insurances and maintenance levies after downsizing to an apartment. The governments have thrown apartment dwellers to the wolves after encouraging us to downsize.

    We’d have been better off staying in our 4 bedroom house and minimizing our outgoings, but we did what the government wanted and freed up a home for families, only to be bled of our savings for maintenance and insurance.

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