More than a third of public housing tenants are over 55

Over-55s are making up an increasing percentage of those who rely on public housing, and the situation could be about to get much worse.

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) has released a report that shows people aged 55 years and over now comprise 35 per cent of public housing tenants nationally, which was up from just 20 per cent in 2006.

The Ageing Well in Public Housing report found that there were systemic issues affecting the appropriateness of public housing as an option for older people, now and into the future.

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Added to the rise in over-55s reliant on public housing is the fact that a significant government rental affordability scheme is about to come to an end.

The Rudd government’s National Affordability Rental Scheme (NRAS), which encouraged the private sector to provide cheaper housing by paying property owners a subsidy in exchange for them offering below-market rents, was scrapped by the Abbott government in 2014.

However, property owners who had previously signed up to the scheme had their subsidies grandfathered in, meaning that they were able to continue to offer cheap housing.

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Over the next three years, these property owners will start to move away from these subsidies, leaving many renters benefitting from the scheme with limited options.

Community housing advocates say many NRAS renters are likely to transfer across to public housing waitlists when their rent goes up.

There were 155,100 households on a waiting list for public housing last year, according to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Leo Patterson Ross, from the Tenants’ Union of NSW, told The Guardian that more tenants are calling his organisation asking about their rights when the rent goes up on their affordable housing.

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The AHURI report confirmed that the public housing system in Australia was under pressure and faced multiple challenges, including demand for housing far exceeding supply, an ageing population, inappropriate and inefficient stock and increasing complexity relating to the needs of tenants.

“These pressures are impacting lower income older households and the ability of the system to support an ageing well philosophy,” the report stated.

Dr Debbie Faulkner, from the University of South Australia and one of the authors of the report, said that older tenants reported variable experiences in public housing.

“For some tenants, the tenure provides a range of qualities, supports and experiences that they highly value and which promote ageing well,” Dr Faulkner said.

“For other tenants, particularly people in less well-functioning or disruptive communities where antisocial behaviour issues are prevalent, their public housing experience has been detrimental to their quality of life.”

Some of the concerns raised by participants in the study include supporting respect and dignity, minimising vulnerability, promoting access to care and facilitating equality and equity.

One of the report’s suggestions for improving the ability of public housing tenants to age well was a person-centred landlord model.

“This would involve formally working in partnership with other providers to better meet the needs and expectations of older tenants, including for ageing well,” Dr Faulkner said.

“It is concerning that some jurisdictions are moving to an asset management driven model and away from case consideration or a social landlord style model of support and care.

“This study confirms the invaluable role tenancy support or practitioner roles play in improving tenancy experiences and sense of agency for older people.”

Do you live in public housing? What do you think can be done to improve the system? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking is a skilled writer and editor with interests and expertise in politics, government, Centrelink, finance, health, retirement income, superannuation, Wordle and sports.
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