Older low-income earners who are increasingly on the brink of homelessness could find a new life in regional Australia, under an innovative model of affordable housing.
An inquiry into precarious living situations for many older Australians found instability was increasing, as those who could once rely on social housing were now struggling to pay rent in the private market.
“The pandemic has brought to light the central importance of home and its surroundings to people’s wellbeing,” the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute report said.
“For older people who spend considerable time at home, the importance of appropriate housing – that is, housing that meets their financial, social and connection needs – is particularly acute.”
Along with vertical villages, co-living communities and co-operative housing, land-lease arrangements in regional towns were considered as possible solutions for housing security and affordability.
Under land leases, people own their homes and rent the land, both of which are more affordable outside major cities.
The arrangement would allow residents to access some forms of Commonwealth rent assistance, improving their financial position.
Industry bodies interviewed by the researchers said more affordable housing for seniors could be offered at a subsidy by local councils, drawing more income from rates and flow-on benefits for their communities.
But the report recommended changes in lending practices, because banks rarely lend for these kinds of projects.
It also pointed out that older Australians needed support and care.
“While both older people and housing providers view regional towns and smaller cities positively … a population shift among older people would require investment in regional health and care services,” it said.
The report by researchers from the University of South Australia, RMIT University, Curtin University and Flinders University also called for a coherent national housing policy, and significant investment in social housing.
They found growing instability among older low-income earners was caused by declining rates of home ownership, dwindling affordable housing options, and people carrying mortgage debt into retirement.
“A policy environment that recognises the central role of housing as a public good with flow-on effects for people’s health, wellbeing and social inclusion is important in envisioning types of housing suitable and desired by older people,” the report said.