Australia’s retirement living industry has requested a $5 million government fund, and changes to rental assistance and early superannuation access laws, to help it build and open up more affordable housing for single older women aged over 55.
The Retirement Living Council today published a report outlining how retirement villages could play a key role delivering affordable housing for older women.
The report says that, across the nation, there are around 240,000 women aged over 55 who are considered at risk of homelessness.
“However, these women are in housing limbo because they have too much money to qualify for social housing and too little money to buy a house,” Retirement Living Council president Marie-Louise McDonald said.
“Their age is often a big barrier to securing a housing loan, and the pressure of paying rent quickly eats into modest retirement savings.
These are women who do not deserve to be staring down the barrel of homelessness at this point in their lives.
“The suite of policy recommendations outlined in this landmark report, aims to provide practical solutions for governments, which would help more older Australian women find safe, secure, long-term homes.”
The report notes the successful example of the IRT Jasmine Grove project in the NSW Illawarra region, which was able to deliver a retirement village specifically for single older women on low to middle incomes and with modest savings.
Following a $600,000 grant from the Australian Government’s Building Better Regions fund, eight retirement village dwellings centered around a communal kitchen and garden were developed. These dwellings had a minimum incoming contribution of $199,000.
In its report, the Retirement Living Council has called for:
- A $5 million Australian Government fund to support innovative housing models in age-friendly communities, similar to the kick-start role the Building Better Regions fund played at the IRT Jasmine Grove project
- Allowing people moving into retirement villages to more easily claim rent assistance (there is currently a $214,000 incoming contribution price cap for village residents who want to claim this assistance, however this cap does not apply in land lease communities).
- Government-backed loans and shared equity models for single older women
- Allowing residents to claim Commonwealth home care funds to pay for part of their retirement village monthly service charges
- Allowing women over 55 to have early access to their superannuation to purchase in a retirement community (early super access is currently available to first home buyers).
- Creating an online portal which would allow women to get priority access to low-cost retirement housing.
The report, which has been backed by the Federal Age Discrimination Commissioner, notes that the average price of a retirement village unit is currently just 55 per cent of the median house price in the surrounding neighbourhood.
The report states that women over the age of 55 are the fastest growing cohort of homeless Australians, with issues such as the gender pay gap, low super balances, age discrimination, relationship breadowns and domestic violence contributing to the problem.
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About one in three Australian women approaching retirement have no superannuation.
The report suggests that retirement communities could be a ‘missing middle’ option for single older women, sitting comfortably between social and affordable housing projects and market-priced homes.
At present, over 50s seeking affordable rental housing and willing to consider sharing with a flatmate can use Downsizing.com.au’s free SeniorFlatmates.com.au service. This service is already utilised by many single older women.
Comment from our CEO
Downsizing.com.au Amanda Graham welcomed the report and its proposed solutions, saying in recent years, website traffic showed increasing numbers of desperate consumers were seeking out affordable rental accommodation.
“It’s largely been an invisible issue, disguised with many women couchsurfing with friends, staying with family members or even sleeping in their cars. Although single older women are increasingly at risk of homelessness, until now this problem has not received the attention it deserves,” she said.
“The example of IRT Jasmine Grove is just a small taste of what’s possible here, and there is a lot of existing older retirement housing stock which could be readily re-purposed as affordable housing. There are a range of practical suggestions in this report and they are deserving of close attention by governments at all levels.”
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Visit Downsizing.com.au for properties suitable for over 50s to rent or buy
In addition, learn about the different downsizing options on offer, and insider tips on making the move, in our just-released Ultimate Guide to Downsizing 2022.