We are a nation obsessed with youth. The plight of first home buyers is dominating the housing affordability debate. As Scott Morrison drip feeds us budget lifebuoys for childless 20-something couples still living at home, little attention is paid to the 15,000 homeless seniors.
As hard as it is for young people to get a foot on the property ladder, it’s even harder for pensioners and low to middle income renters to get a foot in the door … any door.
Private rental accommodation is now more unaffordable than owner-occupied. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, people who rent spend more of their income on housing than people with a mortgage. Sadly, 60% of people on low incomes, like pensioners, experience rental stress.So why aren’t we talking about this? Why are governments, at all levels, so singularly focused on younger first-home buyers?
In a country that prides itself on “a fair go”, perhaps we feel it’s unfair for a young hard-working couple, with lives full of hope and opportunity, to have slim chance at owning their own home.
More unfair than the plight of a homeless pensioner who “had their chance at life” and should play the cards they’ve been dealt.
Homelessness Australia estimates there’s 2,000 Australians over the age of 75 sleeping rough on any given night. Many of them widows.
Is it fair these elderly women work their whole lives raising children at home, earning no super for themselves, only to wind up destitute when a husband passes away?
A couple reliant on the full age pension lives off just $650 a week. When a spouse passes away, this drops to $440 a week.
According to new figures from the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, this puts a two-bedroom rental unit in Sydney out of reach of single pensioners. In this situation, housing options become critically limited, a situation I find most unfair. Surprisingly, housing choices for pensioners who live in their own home are also limited. Many are languishing in empty family homes, too afraid to make a change through fear of the unknown or, for many, the real risk of losing their pension.
News the government may consider taking up a Property Council of Australia proposal to quarantine a portion of home sale profits from the age pension asset test is welcome. However, yet again, the treasurer is looking at this through the first-home buyers’ lens, eager to free up family homes for younger generations. Instead, he should be seeing the potential of this proposal to increase housing choices for older Australians, and ultimately enhance their health and wellbeing.
We have an opportunity to tackle the much larger issue of an ageing Australia through affordable age-friendly housing solutions. People who live in age-friendly housing, like retirement villages, require fewer GP and hospital visits and delay demand for residential aged care by over six years.
Research by the Retirement Living Council found this saves the government $2.16bn in healthcare costs. Importantly, people who live in socially-connected, age-friendly housing report feeling happier, they also have a greater capacity to self-fund aged care.
A two-bedroom retirement unit costs about 67% of a standard two-bedroom unit in the same postcode. Unfortunately this cost-saving incentive is rendered useless by an age pension asset test that penalises pensioners who downsize.
If the federal government does act to remedy this, states and local councils must follow suit with housing and planning regulations that enable seniors’ housing to thrive.
If pensioners turn to retirement villages in droves, we won’t have enough supply to meet demand. We need to tackle this equation, before encouraging pensioners to leave their family home.
It’s clear that housing affordability affects us all. However, in our efforts to support our youth, we must not forget, or take advantage of, our older Australians.