Single women over the age of 55 are the new face of homelessness in Australia having become the fastest-growing homeless group.
According to multiple studies, older women's vulnerability to homelessness is due to economic inequality from a lifetime of lower wages, lower superannuation and time taken out of work for caring responsibilities; domestic and family violence; relationship break ups and disadvantage.
Many older women find themselves couch surfing, living in their cars or on the streets; or paying a high percentage of their income on private rentals.
Most have been in relationships, raised children, had jobs (or still work) but cannot afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to buy a home and cannot find affordable accommodation in a tight rental market.
Some of these vulnerable women are retired and living on the age pension. They will likely never be offered social housing because of long waiting lists and they watch their savings dwindle as they supplement their pension to help pay skyrocketing rents.
However, a not- for- profit group, the Older Women Co-Housing Association, in Brisbane is trying to help some vulnerable older women with an innovative pilot housing project called Sharing With Friends which began in 2019 with the purpose of providing affordable housing through a shared equity model.
After years of fund-raising, the group has bought an 800m2 block of land at Darra, a south-western suburb of Brisbane and plans to build affordable, safe, secure homes for five older women to allow them to live privately and with dignity as they age.
The proposed development comprises five studio apartments with ensuite bathrooms, kitchenettes and private courtyards as well as a communal central garden pavilion with a shared laundry, entertainment space, kitchen, and toilet. It will meet universal design guidelines for ageing in place, such as wide doorways and wheelchair access.
Now the group is looking for compatible women to become the first residents of the development when it is completed late next year.
Unlike social housing or private rentals the development is shared equity housing. The five residents all pay $120,000 (the average an Australian women currently retires on), for a 50 year lease on their unit with capital returned plus CPI on exit. The development is designed to foster community, with residents responsible for community management.
The eligibility criteria includes being single, identifying as female, being currently vulnerable - in need of support and safety because of age, social isolation, and risk of homelessness, having $120,000 in savings, superannuation, or assets, at the time of moving into a Sharing With Friends property, eligible to receive the full Australian age pension, or full disability pension, not owning or part owning property in Australia or overseas and if currently renting, paying more than 30 per cent of the full Australian age pension.
Some of the women who expressed interest in Sharing With Friends have in the past found themselves homeless and/or struggling to find a home to rent. These are some of their comments:
"Ideally I'd love a safe, affordable, secure place to call my own."
"I lost my job and a home I had rented for 25 years all in the same week. I couldn't find anywhere to rent."
"What am I going to do? Do I have to keep working until I drop or is it possible for me to get something. No one will loan money to me at my age."
Australia's growing challenge of providing affordable housing for older people who do not own their homes, is an uphill battle which can lead to multiple other problems. Older people experiencing homelessness or housing stress are not only more likely to live with more disabilities, chronic diseases, complex health problems and geriatric symptoms but also die earlier.
A recent Anglicare Australia's Rental Affordability Snapshot showed that a single woman on the Age Pension could afford less than 1 per cent of rental listings across Australia. That included the highest rate of rent assistance.
Sharing With Friends is an "ideas incubator". It has documented the concept design and community consultation over four years with a view to sharing it as an open source of intellectual property, which can be replicated by community groups throughout Queensland.
Older women interested in the Sharing With Friends concept can take part in a series of free workshops on September 2, 9, 17, 24, and 30 from 1pm-4pm at the Indooroopilly Library. Register for current and future workshops at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sharing With Friends is also seeking support for current and future projects.