Older Women’s Housing Program Tackles Growing Crisis
24 May 2018 at 8:33 am
A new housing program hopes to help the increasing number of older women who find themselves living in unstable, highly overpriced or grossly inadequate housing, writes Jeanette Large, CEO of Women’s Property Initiatives.
In recent years, we have seen an unprecedented number of women facing housing insecurity (even homelessness) for the first time when they are older.
Between 2011 and 2016 there was a 31 per cent increase in older Australian females experiencing homelessness. Low superannuation, a marriage breakup, poor health or the death of a spouse are among the factors that play a part.
Their history is often unremarkable. They have been independent, worked and raised children but now have limited income – too limited to cope with unaffordable private rents. As a result many of these women find themselves living in unstable, highly overpriced or grossly inadequate housing.
Through research carried out in 2016, Women’s Property Initiatives identified a sizeable group of women over 55 years of age who retire with a very modest level of assets. This makes them ineligible for social housing, yet they have limited or no working career ahead of them. They certainly don’t have the financial capacity to access a mortgage or own a home on their own.
These women are locked into the private rental market, characterised by insecurity of tenure and diminishing affordability and frequently dip into their savings to cover the cost of rent.
WPI’s research has shown that there is genuine interest from these women in investing their money to obtain housing, where their capital will be preserved and they will have secure tenure as they age.
WPI has developed a model that takes a different approach to the supply of affordable housing for older women. It will enable low-income women over 55 with modest assets to invest them in a new development to secure a home into the future. They will have peace of mind from knowing that their rent is income-based and therefore remains affordable, and their capital investment and tenancy is secure.
Obviously, this is not a solution for all single women over 55 – many of them do not have the capital to invest. But with affordable housing at crisis point, and older women the fastest growing group of homeless, isn’t it time to consider a new approach? As an alternative to private rental it will provide security of tenure at an affordable rate and maintain the value of their invested assets.
These women won’t have to contend with unstable and often highly inappropriate housing and it will prevent them from becoming homeless or requiring more costly social housing in the future. The homes will be high-quality and accessible, allowing them to age in place.
The arrangement is sustainable for WPI through ongoing affordable rental payments, contributions from the women housed in the properties and subsidies from government or other sources.
A site in Beaconsfield in Melbourne’s outer east has been secured for the pilot of this program and we have several women who are expressing interest in participating. The required subsidies for this pilot have come from philanthropic organisations Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and Mercy Foundation. Four private, architect designed houses will be constructed on the site which is close to public transport, health services, shopping, and community facilities. WPI aims to rollout this program on a much wider scale and to create a model that is useful for other community housing organisations to house older women at significantly lower cost. A comprehensive evaluation of the pilot will be presented to both state and federal governments.
About the author: Jeanette Large is CEO of Women’s Property Initiatives, a not-for-profit provider of affordable, long-term homes for women and of Property Initiatives Real Estate, a social enterprise established to create a revenue stream for WPI.