Housing: The 'significant crisis' for single older Australians

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Elderly man
An elderly man stands in Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro September 13, 2011. Reuters/Ricardo Moraes

Millennials in Australia are struggling to buy their first homes. But even older Aussies are facing "significant crisis,” experts have warned.

The Council on the Ageing said the pressure of carrying mortgages into retirement and finding suitable housing result to financial strain and homelessness. It described older Aussies as the "forgotten faces" of the housing debate.

On Thursday, the COTA hosted a summit in Canberra with industry experts and policymakers. The summit is aimed at finding ways to resolve the issue concerning older Australians’ housing needs. It was also focused on major issues that could hurt older Aussies in the next 20 years. These include dropping rates of home ownership, increasing rental prices and an unfriendly private rental property market.

Ian Yates, COTA chief executive, warned that if something could not be done, it will turn out to be a “really significant crisis” in 10 or 15 years. He added there have been some early warning signs. According to Yates, there has been a rise of homelessness among older people, specifically women. He revealed the problem was not due to factors of traditional homelessness.

"We're seeing more people entering retirement with a mortgage, and we're seeing the rates of home ownership amongst retirees starting to decline,” ABC quotes him as saying. He added that they have also seen other issues such as later family formation or divorced people who have unstable financial situations.

Based on Anglicare’s 2017 Rental Affordability Snapshot report, only 6 percent of the market was affordable for a single older Australian living on the Age Pension. Yates admitted there are some who are currently in their 50s and 60s who will retire as renters.

Grattan Institute chief executive John Daley said that change has to start now to get a "fighting chance" of resolving the problem. Daley is a keynote speaker at the COTA summit. He explained how Aussies are dealing with a different economic landscape compared to a decade ago. He urged policymakers to come up to speed with key issues in housing for older people, which includes the re-evaluation of assumptions about home ownership that underlines age pension policy.

“At the moment, most 65-year-olds own their own home, but if you look at 45-year-olds, a substantial proportion don’t and probably never will,’’ The Australian quotes Daley as saying. Scarce supply of housing for older Aussies to downsize while they remain in or close to their pre-existing community is also among the key issues.

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