17 June 2019
A prominent academic has called for renting pensioners to be protected from evictions and given greater financial support, after conducting heart-breaking research about loneliness and hardship among older Australians.
University of Technology Sydney Research Professor Alan Morris made the comments in an interview just published with academic research website The Conversation.
In 2016, Mr Morris published a book The Australian Dream: Housing Experiences of Older Australians which included 125 interviews with older Australians, based in Sydney and regional NSW. The interviews focussed on accommodation costs and issues.
Mr Morris said the interviews illustrated that older Australians who were in private rental accommodation were in a “very vulnerable position”, and as such were suffering from anxiety and loneliness.
Across Australia, in 2015-16, one in ten households containing a person aged over 55 were renting in the private market. This compares to one in 16 in 1995-96.
“Because the cost of accommodation is high, pensioners very often have to live in situations that are not satisfactory, in terms of locations and the quality of accommodation,” Professor Morris said.
“Then a very important factor is the constant anxiety as to whether they are going to retain their accommodation, so they are constantly worried about rent being increased and whether the landlord will ask them to leave.
“Their financial situation means they find it very difficult to afford outings, even if this means going on public transport. They have to measure up whether they can afford it and every cent is accounted for.
“And sometimes the stress becomes so acute, they find it difficult to engage with the world, even if they want to.”
One interviewee told Professor Morris how she had to choose between food or breaking her isolation by using public transport. “Well, you sort of think ‘what you can do with $2.50’. That’s a loaf of bread type of thing,” the pensioner said.
Another pensioner said: “There’s quite an active social club at the church for over-55s but I can’t go to any of those …they might have an afternoon at somebody’s home and you’re asked to bring a plate [of food]. You see, I couldn’t afford to do that.”
Professor Morris said he found it “interesting and surprising” that a number of private renters he interviewed had previously been home owners, but had been forced to sell their home after divorce, illness or a business failure.
Professor Morris stated that he would like to see State legislation improved, to remove the existing ability of landlords to evict tenants with 90 days’ notice, without reason.
The ALP Opposition had promised to ban these forms of evictions, but failed to secure power at the March election.
He also called for improved Commonwealth rental assistance, noting that tenants currently receive the “same level of help in Dubbo as you do in Sydney.”
However, Professor Morris said the biggest reform needed was government support to build additional affordable housing. The Federal ALP had promised to build 20,000 affordable homes in its first term but ultimately lost the 18 May election.
“Any decent society should look after more vulnerable citizens - not everybody can make it in the housing market,” he said.
“When people have secure and affordable housing, their ability to participate in society is greatly enhanced, and if they don’t they cost the system a lot of money in terms of health costs.
“Australia needs to embark on a very serious social housing program.”
The UK Government is serving as something of a role model when it comes to dealing with this issue. In April 2019, it announced it will stop no-fault evictions and in October last year, also launched a national loneliness strategy.
What are the options?
Renting pensioners looking for an alternative may be able to see if they can move into one of Australia’s many rental villages, or apply for social housing.
Separately, Downsizing,com.au operates the free Seniors Flatmates service, to help older Australians to find like-minded flatmates who can help share renting costs.