With the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) coming to an end, a more flexible successor scheme could stimulate the refurbishment of ageing independent living unit (ILU) stock to provide affordable housing for low-income older people.

Since it began in 2008, the NRAS has offered financial incentives towards the construction of new properties to be rented to those on low incomes.

Martin Laverty
Martin Laverty

However, Martin Lavery, CEO of Catholic Health Australia, has proposed to the Senate inquiry into affordable housing that a modified successor program could incentivise church and charities to refurbish their ageing stock of ILUs.

Catholic aged care organisations alone have 7,000 housing units, Mr Laverty said, but because of their age many were in need of upgrade.

Such a program could help meet the demand from older people for private rental and social housing, which a 2010 report from the department of families found would increase at a rate of 120 per cent between 2008 and 2028.

Ageing stock

Mr Laverty said that through the 1950s to 1970s, the Commonwealth Government had assisted church and charitable organisations to build ILUs, predominantly in outer suburbs, regional and country towns. Many of these units were now in need of refurbishment.

“If a successor program was refashioned to allow church and charitable organisations to access a modest incentive for the refurbishment of their ILUs, the Commonwealth would get a greater outcome by increased provision of contemporary accommodation for low income older Australians,” Mr Laverty told Australian Ageing Agenda.

At the same time, such an incentive would unlock the capital value of church and charitable owned assets through a modest Commonwealth outlay, Mr Laverty said.

“I have seen across Australia, and particularly in rural and regional areas, church and charitable organisations have put off refurbishment because of the cost. While the church and charitable body would still have to bring capital to the refurbishment cost,  if there was a modest incentive from the Commonwealth that would stimulate the decision of boards of church and charitable organisations to upgrade their housing stock.”

Necessary to support community care growth

In its submission to the Senate inquiry, CHA pointed out that the policy shift toward increased provision of aged care in the community was contingent on sufficient accommodation and housing.

“Housing security and affordability are fundamental prerequisites to expanding consumer directed home care services program,” its submission said. “Without these, consumers will be at risk of premature admittance into residential aged care funded by the Commonwealth as supported residents.”

Mr Laverty said that in many country towns it was typical for a church or charitable aged care provider to have high and low levels of residential care and ILUs located on the same complex. “We see an opportunity for an expansion of delivery of Commonwealth funded home care packages into retirement living communities under this scheme…  offering an older Australian a continuous care option,” but this was contingent on there being adequate and appropriate ILUs available, he said.

CHA was currently working to determine how many ILUs nationally in the church and charitable sector could potentially benefit from such a program. Mr Lavery said they hoped to take that advice to the Senate inquiry’s hearings which are scheduled to take place in April and May.

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