Older people on the street?

Seniors Rights homeless pictureFinancial abuse by a family member can result in an older person losing their house and sometimes their savings. Older Victorians in this situation, and particularly older women, are finding it increasingly difficult to get other accommodation, and they may be at risk of homelessness.

Cost of housing too high for older people on low incomes

In a Submission in January this year to the Victorian Parliament’s Inquiry into the Adequacy and Future Directions of Public Housing in Victoria, Council on the Ageing (COTA) flagged that housing affordability has declined 40% overall in the past decade and that lower income, older renters – particularly private renters – continue to be a relatively disadvantaged group in terms of housing affordability, security and quality. The number of people 65+ living in lower income rental households is projected to increase from 195,000 (2001 figures) to 419,000 in 2026 – a 115% increase. The greatest increase (194%) will be among those 85+, growing from 17,300 to 51,000.

In the private rental housing market, vacancy rates are historically low, and rents are rising substantially (5.2% during 2006–07), while investment in new low-rental housing has declined significantly. Another factor making the rental and low-cost housing market tighter is the increase in the number of single-person households competing for limited housing stock. Low income, sole person households in rental housing will grow from 110,800 (in 2001) to 243,600 in 2026. About two-thirds of these households will be sole women. Couple households in rental housing will rise from 32,200 to 69,900. For single women, housing affordability is made worse by the fact that they have continued to earn lower wages overall and, if they have participated less in the workforce, they may have lower savings or less superannuation.

The most cited reason for older people moving into public housing is that they cannot afford private rental. But general public housing has very long waiting lists (up to 20 years), while the wait even for emergency/priority cases can be up to 5 years. And many older people made homeless by financial abuse may be ineligible because they may still have enough money over the low asset threshold amount (currently $1300) that determines eligibility for homeless people.  There is also a great diversity of housing needs and preferences among older renters which public housing provision does not cater for.

Older people need more and better housing options

The residential care system is one accommodation option for older people, but it exists primarily to meet people’s care needs. Older people who are in good health and don’t have specific care needs may not be eligible for residential care. In any case, residential care may not be what the older person wants, and it shouldn’t be their only option just because they find themselves priced out of the rental and housing markets.

An older person who has become homeless as a result of financial abuse often has few or no options, as can be seen from the case studies that SRV provided to the Inquiry.  COTA’s recommendations to the Parliamentary Inquiry included increasing public housing stock so that all aged pensioners in private rental could have a choice of entering public/social housing; and re-introducing priority for public housing for older people of age-pension age who have assets below $100,000.

The Parliament’s Family and Community Development Committee, which received over 100 submissions from community and welfare agencies and concerned individuals, is due to report on the Inquiry by 30 September 2010. You can read other submissions and monitor progress of the Inquiry on the Parliamentary website. Details of COTA’s and SRV’s response to the Inquiry’s recommendations and outcomes will be put up on our websites after the Inquiry is complete.