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Call for affordable housing as homeless older women issue escalates

A national women’s alliance says the Federal Government should keep negative gearing but amend the controversial tax arrangement so that it stimulates supply of age-friendly new builds to support the growing number of homeless older women.

Helen Dalley-Fisher, manager of Equality Rights Alliance, a national network of 62 not-for-profit women’s organisations, said the change would be a “powerful tool” to channel the estimated $7 billion in revenue lost through negative gearing into supplying new affordable housing.

Under the proposal, only properties purchased after a certain date could be negatively geared, and only if they conformed to universal design principles, were built in designated areas and targeted needy groups, such as older women, she said.

Helen Dalley-Fisher

Helen Dalley-Fisher

The call from the Equity Rights Alliance is a notable departure from most other peak bodies and housing agencies, which have traditionally argued for negative gearing to be scrapped or severely curtailed.

Housing for the Aged Action Group has previously called for negative gearing to be abolished, while the Australian Council of Social Services in April called for heavy restrictions to be introduced.

Ms Dalley-Fisher was speaking to Australian Ageing Agenda ahead of the Council on the Ageing (COTA) National Policy Forum in July where she will speak on the housing experiences of older women.

She said that service providers were witnessing increasing numbers of seniors, and older women in particular, approaching retirement while paying a large mortgage or renting.

Using 2011 Census figures, Ms Dalley-Fisher estimated that some 585,000 women aged over 45 who were on low to middle incomes did not own their own home and would approach “rental stress” as they retired, she said. “That’s a concern when we have no means of addressing that through aged care policy or through housing policy,” she said.

Earlier this month a Senate inquiry into affordable housing concluded that the government’s aged care policy should take into account the growing number of seniors living in rental accommodation who faced challenges such as the inability to install home modifications.

The Senate report was released just weeks after Anglicare Australia’s Rental Affordability Snapshot, which reported that age pensioner couples would find suitable just 3.4 per cent of the 65,600 properties sampled.

The Anglicare report concluded that with the aged care and pension systems essentially predicated on the assumption that seniors owned their home, the increase in the numbers renting or still paying a mortgage would lead to growth in old age poverty unless a national housing policy was developed.

Ms Dalley-Fisher said that her organisation’s qualitative research showed many older women were living in unsuitable accommodation, often on the fringes of urban areas because it was more affordable, but which ultimately compromised them in other ways, such as through transport costs. “That’s the real poverty trap women get themselves caught in, they’re so desperate for a roof over their heads,” she said.

Ageing in place was another big concern, she said:

“We don’t have sufficient requirements around universal access and building codes, so you get women living in houses they can’t actually function in but they’ll stay there rather than become homeless.”

Ms Dalley-Fisher said that older women experiencing homelessness or living in inappropriate accommodation was an escalating problem.

“That’s the common story now; women who are 50 and above who have experienced a relationship breakdown at some point, have had significant periods out of work to care for children or older parents, have traditionally earned much less than their male colleagues, and have very little by way of superannuation. We’re looking at very concerning patterns.”

The COTA National Policy Forum 2015, focusing on gender and ageing, takes place on 2 July at the National Press Club. Australian Ageing Agenda is the forum media partner.

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8 Responses to Call for affordable housing as homeless older women issue escalates

  1. Angela May 29, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

    And how many of these older women ‘with big mortgages or renting’ have been stripped of their life savings by lawyers in the Family Court?

    Sorry, but negative gearing has to go. It is a licence to avoid paying tax – and tax that ought to be spent on pubic housing.

  2. Regina Lang May 30, 2015 at 11:52 am #

    Many women have very little super and the tax office never pursue unpaid super for older unskilled workers and businesses know all the loopholes to avoid paying it. It is very difficult to get a job over 50 and the average weekly rental is more than double any benefits such as newstart, pension, carers etc. Yet politicians get hotels, motels, flats, travel…payed for by taxpayers. Just so wrong the priorities which governments think are important. It is about time Women ran the show and the world would be a better place for all.

  3. maggie May 31, 2015 at 10:56 am #

    Indeed, I am one of those women, relationship breakdown, children, working poor, continue to work in a low paid position because I do work in Aged Care. Its always been a challenge, lost the family home, rent, moving from one rental to another, now already retirement age, still working, not much superannuation, no hope of purchasing a home, still in rental. All I can say is thank God my children have their own homes and maybe, just maybe might take me in when I am pass my use by day.

  4. John June 1, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

    Having read Helen’s report and also read some of the linked reports I do not think you can wait for government to solve your problem of housing. You need to be pro-active. Try and get together some people with similar problems and sit down to talk and try and come to a pathway that may lead to a solution. There are many retired people in communities that have great expertise in a whole range of related areas. e.g. government, finance, housing, submissions for funding, aged care, etc. Invite someone who may be suitable to a coffee session. Many hands make light work and many minds coming together can generate ideas and solutions to problems. Australia has a massive problem as the baby boomers retire and the government will have no hope finding all the solutions. I firmly believe that there is a solution to your housing problem and that solution is within the capacity of your own community. Good luck.

  5. Miriam Sandkuhler June 3, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

    Hello !

    Part of the solution is encouraging local and foreign investors to allocate their vacant property to the affordable housing pool.

    Regard my article here about my solution

    thanks Miriam

  6. Annabel Warner July 4, 2015 at 8:43 pm #

    I am an older women (61 and counting) in housing and financial hardship, I took time out of the workforce when my partner became seriously ill and requested that he be allowed to pass at home….I nursed him through until the end and then found that I could no longer afford to live in the city in which we had shared his home, he had left his home to a charity and I was not of a mind to fight the will.
    I wandered back to Victoria where I had a few more friends but have not been able to get back into the work force, I studied and gained a Dual Cert.4, I am volunteering with Vinnies and living on $589 a fortnight, in my small motorhome with my 2 Whippets…..I ‘camp’ in a friends driveway most of the time but this has to change due to her change of circumstances.
    More low cost / public housing is so desperately needed.
    In the past people such as myself turned to living in a caravan and annex – what luxury – now though the Councils close down the residential caravan parks or they are turned into ‘lifestyle’ villages and the units are $200 – $300 thousand to buy.
    I put together a proposal of setting up a way for older women to connect safely with each other with a view to sharing homes – I have sent that proposal to many organisations with no feedback at all.
    I do have a small amount of savings and a very small amount of ‘super’, and that added to my older motorhome is just enough to make me over a threshold so that I am not eligible for assistance at present, although one housing worker did suggest I spend all my money, sell my motorhome and then I could get a unit or flat in about 12 months, she was somewhat taken aback when I asked her where I was supposed to live in the meantime!
    Some think having my 2 dogs is a luxury but they are my only family and my last connection with the life I used to live…they keep me sane (well, sort of) too.
    I am seriously scared about my future, although this world is fast becoming one I no longer wish to be involved in with so much cruelty to so many….
    I would be happy to forward my ‘home share connect ideas to anyone who may be interested….


  7. Jan Marshall August 25, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

    Annabel Warner, I have also been thinking of something similar. I am in this situation, and see many homes it would be possible to share with others, but no way to connect to like minded others who may be interested, please contact me so we can share ideas and discuss, via website

  8. Heather September 9, 2015 at 12:11 am #

    Hi Annabel and Jan

    Ive recently reconvened the Victorian Older Womens Network, which is a self help group for women 50 and over. This is a network that focuses on supporting older women to address financial hardhip, housing insecurity and age discrimination and everything else that flows from those issues.

    I’m looking to set up a network of groups throughout Victoria, with the aim of empowering older women via lobbying governments, peak bodies and service providers. OWN Vic could be a great place to get your share accomodation idea going. Im in a similar position to you and belive that as a staewide netowk of individual groups we can have a great impact on government policy and are better able to work with agencies and peak bodies that can support us in this.
    Im currently writing fundng submissions and there has been a lot of interest and encouragement so far to see the organistion up and running.

    We’re hoping to have a OWN Vic webiste up and running in the next few months, and that could be another platform for your idea. Amanda may I ask which organisationsn you sent your proposal to? I might be able to help there as well.

    Please have a look at what OWN groups are doing in NSW and Queensland and also our national body OWN Australia. Try and there will be links to the other OWN’s as well.

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