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Older renters struggling, but not just because of the pandemic

Older renters across the country are struggling with financial pressures and social isolation, according to new data analysis from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI).

Western Sydney University’s Emma Power said for older renters on very low incomes, the pandemic has only exacerbated affordability issues in the housing system, with many older renters unable to afford basic essentials like food and bills, as well as experiencing social isolation.  

“People unable to afford basic essential expenses like food are likely to experience health and wellbeing costs and be more dependent on charities like local foodbanks to make ends meet,” Dr Power said.

“Inability to afford the costs of social activities can lead to a loss of social connections and negatively impact wellbeing.”

Executive director of renting advocacy group Better Renting, Joel Dignam, says older renters on the Age Pension are under a lot of pressure in the ACT’s expensive rental market.

Age Pension recipients were eligible for the Federal Government’s economic support payments, but not the coronavirus supplement which has seen some welfare payments increase temporarily in response to COVID-19.

“Particularly if they’re struggling with their budget, it’s much harder to get out and be socially active,” he said.

Mr Dignam said people struggling with the cost of rent, bills and food would also be more likely to cut back on energy usage by foregoing things like heating, which could have health implications for older Canberrans.

Even before the pandemic, the ACT was deemed largely unaffordable for most people receiving welfare payments. Anglicare’s rental affordability snapshot in August – its second for the year – showed even with some temporarily increased welfare payments, rentals were even less affordable than they were in March.  

Emma Campbell, CEO of the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS), said the ACT rental market is “severely unaffordable” for anyone living on the Age Pension.

“The severe lack of affordable properties is a major concern, because it’s placing many older Canberrans, especially older women, at risk of homelessness,” she said.  

“It’s not acceptable that people in their older age in a country like Australia have insecure housing.” 

More investment needed in housing, transport

Dr Campbell said fixing the ACT’s “housing crisis” would go a long way to improving the situation for older renters.

She said there needs to be more investment in affordable housing from both the ACT and Federal Government, and without major investment in social housing, in particular community housing, the “desperate needs” of some older Canberrans are not going to be met.

Dr Campbell also called for design standards that would see houses adaptable for people with disability and good quality public transport so people can remain connected to their communities.

“When you talk about housing, it needs to be linked with other discussions about transportation and links to other facilities.

“We have some hope that as a result of the [ACT Labor-Greens] Parliamentary Agreement which has committed to the delivery of 400 public houses and an aspiration to deliver affordable houses that we will see some improvement to the housing situation in the ACT.”  

She also noted age discrimination as a barrier for older people trying to find employment.

Mr Dignam also called for more investment into affordable housing, as well as the establishment of minimum energy efficiency standards for rental properties, which the ACT Government has committed to in the Labor-Greens Parliamentary Agreement.

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