New research explores stress of unaffordable and insecure housing on older renters

Aerial view of Australian housing Photo credit: Upsplash (opens in a new window)

New research (opens in a new window)by Western Sydney University finds that older women who rent are struggling in an insecure and unaffordable rental market. A combination of high housing costs and low incomes leaves many living in substandard housing and unable to afford necessities like food and energy bills.

With the number of older Australians who rent projected to increase over the next decade, the report calls for urgent action to address rental affordability and security on a national scale.

Researcher Dr Emma Power, from the School of Social Sciences and Institute for Culture and Society, says that older women’s experiences are a warning of the risks the current housing crisis poses to Australia's growing group of older renters.

“Single older women, aged 55 and over, are overrepresented amongst the asset poor in Australia. They are also one of the fastest growing groups of homeless people nationally,” she says.

“Many of the women in my research lived in degraded and low quality housing or paid high housing costs which stretched their budgets, leaving them unable to buy nutritious food and manage utility bills.

“They described accessing food from local charities and going to bed early for warmth as ways of reducing their financial costs.”

Dr Power explains that the fear of rent increases or eviction left many women living in degraded housing and afraid to ask for repairs. Frequent moves and ongoing uncertainty took a huge financial, physical and emotional toll.

“Rent increases and evictions that forced women to move house were common.

“Women reported ongoing stress and anxiety due to having limited money to fund moves, challenges finding new rentals they could afford, losing community connections and access to health providers, and having to downsize personal belongings to reduce moving costs.

“While affordability and security are concerns for all renters, they are especially vital for older renters on low, fixed incomes facing uncertain futures in the private rental market,” says Dr Power.

“These people need access to secure, affordable housing that meets minimum condition standards.”

She says urgent changes to the national income support system and NSW rental laws are needed.

Recommendations:

  1. Permanently raise the JobSeeker Payment to allow recipients to meet essential needs such as housing, transport and food.
  2. Enable access to affordable housing by raising Commonwealth Rent Assistance rates and increasing public investment in secure social housing.
  3. End ‘no grounds’ eviction, replaced by ‘with cause’ measures to support secure tenure and reduce the risks of unfair and retaliatory evictions.
  4. Quantify and regulate minimum rental housing standards for ventilation, thermal efficiency, cooking facilities and infestation control.
  5. Provide financial assistance to support involuntary moves that result from notice to vacate or rent increase through a bond transfer system and relocation subsidy for low-income renters.

Dr Power explains that the urgency of the recommendations is heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, in which housing plays a central role to controlling the spread.

“Housing is not only the key place through which the pandemic is experienced, it is also the first line of community defence against COVID-19 and a basic requirement for quarantine and self-isolation.”

“A failure to ensure secure housing for all brings risk to the community as a whole.”

The Older women in the private rental sector: unaffordable, substandard and insecure housing (opens in a new window)report will be launched at a virtual event on Tuesday 4 August, with panel discussion including Age Discrimination Commissioner, The Hon. Dr Kay Patterson AO.

The research was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA).

Launch Event: ‘At Risk: Older Women Facing Homelessness in Australia’

11am – 12.30pm, Tuesday 4 August 2020

At Risk: Older Women Facing Homelessness in Australia (opens in a new window)is hosted by Housing for the Aged Action Group (HAAG), Social Ventures Australia, Western Sydney University and Older Women’s Network NSW.

It celebrates the launch of two reports:

  • At Risk: understanding the population size and demographics of older women at risk of homelessness in Australia, commissioned by Social Ventures Australia and written by Dr Debbie Faulkner and Laurence Lester, University of Adelaide.
  • Older women in the private rental sector: unaffordable, substandard and insecure housing by Dr Emma Power, Western Sydney University.

The event will include a panel presentation and Q&A session.

ENDS

4 August 2020

Emily-Kate Ringle-Harris (opens in a new window), Research Media and Communications Officer, Institute for Culture and Society