Reform needed to expand affordable housing choice for older Australians

It is going to be increasingly difficult for disadvantaged and marginalised older Australians to find affordable housing unless the Commonwealth develops programs to broaden housing availability to low-income older people, Catholic Health Australia has told a Senate Inquiry.

A 2010 report from what was then the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs found demand from older-person households for private rental and social housing is expected to grow at a rate of 120 per cent – from 146,200 to 321,400 for private rentals and from 86, 500 to 189,800 for social housing – between 2008 and 2028.

"Meeting expected growth in demand for low-cost housing for older Australians will be difficult. Catholic Health Australia has put forward plans to the Federal Government that seek to ensure older Australians are able to have better access to safe and affordable housing," CEO Martin Laverty said.

"Over many years, religious and charitable organisations have provided housing for older people who are financially disadvantaged, much of which was developed with the assistance of Commonwealth grants in the post-war decades."

Mr Laverty said Catholic aged care organisations alone have about 7,000 housing units of that kind, but because of their age, many are in need of refurbishment to bring them up to current community standards.

"We have put a proposal to the Commonwealth Government to unlock the potential for Church- and charitable-owned housing stock to be refurbished to provide contemporary yet affordable housing to older Australians who might otherwise not be able to afford good quality housing."

CHA has called for the soon to expire National Rental Affordability Scheme, which has played a major role in supporting low-income older Australians who don't own a home, to be followed with a successor program targeting refurbishment of ageing and out-of-date independent living units in order to offer new housing options to low-income older people.

"There must be incentives in place to enable Church and charitable non-government organisations to invest in the provision of new – or undertake refurbishment of existing – housing stock for the benefit of vulnerable older Australians," Mr Laverty said.

In its submission to the Senate Economics References Committee, CHA argued that as ongoing aged care reform seeks to prioritise the provision of care services in an older person's home, the impending shortage of affordable housing options for some older Australians might make that goal unattainable – or at least harder to achieve.

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

The expansion of the amount of secure and affordable homes for older people would also bring associated savings in health expenditure, Mr Laverty said.

"Solving the affordable housing challenges that many older Australians face should be an ongoing priority for the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)," he concluded.

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