Home truths: facing up to housing needs for later life

New research makes a range of recommendations on how government can respond to the “urgent issues” arising from the disconnect between national housing strategy and aged care policy.

New research makes a range of recommendations on how government can respond to the “urgent issues” arising from the disconnect between national housing strategy and aged care policy.

PerCapita's report on housing
PerCapita’s report on housing

Local councils would facilitate public information and advisory sessions for seniors to assist them develop ‘Life Plans’ that outline their housing needs for later life, under proposals put forward in a new paper from think tank Per Capita.

The sessions would canvass possible options such as retrofitting a senior’s current accommodation, downsizing or moving to supported accommodation.

The paper, The Head, The Heart & The House by Per Capita researcher Emily Millane makes a range of recommendations to government on how it can ensure national housing policy is responsive to the impacts of Australia’s ageing population.

In addition to seniors’ information sessions, the wide-ranging report calls for numerous initiatives including government grants for more elaborate home retrofits, a review of previous programs aimed at encouraging downsizing such as the recently axed Housing Help for Seniors Pilot Scheme, and an assessment of assistive technology uptake within home care packages.

The new research is particularly relevant in light of the Federal Government’s long-term expansion of community-based aged care, as well as the worrying increase in seniors accessing homeless support services and those living in rental or temporary accommodation.

Emily Millane, Per Capita’s principal research fellow working on the Longevity and Positive Ageing project
Emily Millane, Per Capita’s principal research fellow working on the Longevity and Positive Ageing project

“We need a policy mix that adapts the current housing stock to longer lives while also developing new housing, particularly for the vulnerable aged,” the paper concluded.

Ms Millane cited Anglicare research from last year that found couples on the aged pension could afford just 6 per cent of rental properties on the market, while for single pensioners it was just 1.5 per cent.

To address this, the paper called for housing bonds to be used to develop affordable renting housing stock, designed using the Liveable Housing Design Guidelines. “Socially inclusive planning schemes” and a review of the adequacy of Commonwealth Rent Assistance for vulnerable seniors were also recommended.

Retrofit: more than ramps and rails

In terms of current housing stock, Ms Millane said greater flexibility and scope was required in government-funded retrofit schemes.

“It’s about looking at interesting ways of adapting the house,” Ms Millane told Australian Ageing Agenda. “It might be knocking down a wall within the residence to create a new area where an adult son or daughter, or a carer, can stay over for longer.”

The report emphasised that while useful, assistive technology was not the only way a home could be modified. A government retrofit scheme should give older people greater choice about the purpose of the reimbursement, and not be limited to technology, the paper said.

Downsizing: not just a financial decision

Discussing recent initiatives that aimed to encourage seniors to downsize, Ms Millane said the Housing Help for Seniors Pilot Scheme, which was announced in the 2013 Federal Budget and abolished in the 2014 Federal Budget, was not in operation long enough to enable a full review of its effectiveness, although early indications suggested a “muted community response.”

The scheme, which protected the age pension for people who sold their home to downsize, was poorly promoted and may have been confusing to people, the paper said.

Importantly, a focus group conducted with Council on the Ageing (COTA) for the paper suggested that the financial incentive in the scheme would not be a primary motivator to downsizing. Issues such as the effort required in moving, and a lack of desirable alternative options, were put forward by seniors as key reasons not to downsize. Therefore, Ms Millane said that initiatives to encourage downsizing needed to consider the full gamut of reasons why people do or do not move, including the psychological and emotional factors, rather than simply providing “hip pocket incentives.”

Read the full paper: The Head, The Heart & The House 

Tags: emily millane, housing homelessness, per capita,

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