Housing for Older People

Author: Dr John Ward, Geriatrician

Australia faces a massive problem providing suitable housing for older people. We have few options at the moment, let alone to provide for the increase of 50% of people over 65 by 2035.

The lack of suitable, affordable housing forces older people into residential aged care or into retirement villages on the outskirts of LGAs, far away from their social networks. Older women, subjected to domestic violence, are often left homeless or forced to remain in a dangerous environment. Other people may suffer rent or mortgage stress and find housing unaffordable. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, older people, especially older women, are the fastest growing subpopulation of people experiencing homelessness and using homelessness services in Australia.

Even for people who own their own homes, their houses may be too large, difficult to maintain, and not suitable for people with disabilities. Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) research shows that 40% of older people do not think their current housing will meet their needs within five years. Housing needs vary according to people’s situations. The availability of housing cannot be separated from the services required by older people to maintain them at home.

The wishes of older people with regard to housing includes:

  • a wish to remain living in their own home with maximal independence.
  • housing that is affordable within their socio-economic status
  • choice and control over the care and support services needed
  • living in the middle or outer suburbs of a city, rather than the CBD, or in regional towns
  • 70% want to live in a stand-alone house with 2-3 bedrooms
  • the capacity to gain capital growth and not a depreciating asset

What do we need?

  • a good understanding of what home means for older people, and how appropriate housing can support them to age well.
  • a central housing information service to advise older people on their housing needs
  • complexes of smaller stand-alone houses on relatively flat terrain, situated close to shops, public transport, libraries and medical services. These complexes should have shaded walking paths, sustainable design with solar power, private and shared outdoor spaces. They should be integrated into the neighbourhood, allowing connections with the community.
  • designs to allow ageing and disability
  • more low cost housing or social housing
  • pilot models of cooperative housing
  • private developments targeted at seniors to provide small but attractive investment returns for private investors
  • Local Government to focus on the housing needs of older people and to identify suitable sites for public or private development
  • services that allow older people to age in their neighbourhood

Where to from here?

  • A Reference Group on Older Person’s Housing is being established. Anyone interested to join this group can message contact@hunterageingalliance.com
  • HAA remains an affiliated organisation with Hunter Community Alliance which is very active in the issue of homelessness and the role of Local Government
  • establish a relationship with Newcastle and Lake Macquarie LGAs to ensure that older people are given a priority within their Affordable Housing Policies.