Seniors group calls for defined federal housing strategy

Seniors group calls for defined federal housing strategy
Seniors group calls for defined federal housing strategy

The Australian Government should formulate a national housing strategy that sets clear directions for Australia’s housing sector, according to not-for-profit group National Seniors Australia.

In the submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, National Seniors also recommended the examination of all types of housing and issues associated with access, adequacy, affordability and security by utilising findings from the Inquiry on Homeownership, the Inquiry on Affordable Housing, the Federation Review and the Tax Review. 

"Outright homeownership has been falling for people aged 55 and over (39.7% in 2001 to 32.1% in 2011)meaning that a greater number of older Australians are either paying off mortgages during retirement or moving from homeowner-occupier into alternative forms of accommodation.

"Other reasons for a fall in homeownership amongst older Australians include loss of paid employment and significant life events such as divorce or losing a partner. 

"Research suggests that insecurity within the private rental market amongst older Australians has led to a shift to public housing.The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) has found that older public housing households are expected to increase from 87,940 in 2001 to 109,560 in 2016, an increase of 24 per cent.

"In the 85+ age group these are expected to increase by 155 per cent. 

"Furthermore, by 2026 the number of lower-income people aged 65 and over who are living in rental households (as homeownership falls) are projected to far exceed the supply capacity of the social housing system. 

"Census data from 2006 to 2011 shows a steady increase in the number of renters aged 55 and over in the private market."

National Seniors Australia recommends that the Australian Government, in collaboration with state and territory governments, examine tenancy regulations, rights and advice services.

The aim would be to deliver security and support for long-term renters; recognise that renting in the private market is a significant form of tenure for many Australians; and increase the attractiveness of this form of tenure for Australia’s long term housing needs. 

"Older renters experience significant anxiety linked to their security of rental tenure and many experience housing stress.Such housing stress is magnified due to rent increasing well above CPI and the insufficiency of Commonwealth Rent Assistance. 

"Renters face a number of disadvantages including forced moves which greatly contribute to instability. The frequency of moving between owners and renters in Australia is the highest in the OECD.

"The lack of long term (beyond 6-12 months) leases available to Australian renters increases instability.  

"Limiting the ability of property investors to terminate leases for ‘any reason with notice’ to a list of prescribed criteria, allowing pet ownership and minor alterations to the rental property would greatly enhance the lifestyle available to renters.  

"Improving the stability and security of tenure for a renter would provide them with the ability to receive similar non-financial benefits available to home owners.

"Creating greater equity in the Australian housing market would reduce the desire to become a homeowner, subsequently reducing the demand which is currently driving high housing prices in the market. 

"National Seniors recommends that the government investigate policies that will address barriers to downsizing (or 'rightsizing') for older Australians, for example, a national ‘rightsizing’ program. 

"Older Australians face barriers to relocating including: the inability to find value for money, stamp duty, moving costs, lack of suitable housing in familiar surroundings with easy access to required amenities, and impacts of selling the home on Age Pension eligibility. 

"These barriers also decrease capacity for older Australians to access equity in their home to assist with living costs during retirement. 

"Proceeds from the sale of the family home continue to remain exempt from the Age Pension assets test for up to 12 months, as long as the funds are intended to buy another home. 

"However, any interest earned on sale proceeds is counted under the income test, and, if a cheaper home is purchased, any surplus cash is included in the Age Pension asset test. 

"Concerns regarding the proceeds of the sale of the home being subject to the Age Pension assets test discourage 20 per cent of all seniors, and 30 per cent of Age Pensioners from selling the home.

"In 2013 the then Labor government announced the Supporting Senior Australians—housing help for seniors pilot,to address some of the barriers to downsizing that older Australians face. 

"The pilot exempted a portion of sale proceeds from the Age Pension asset test. However, it also applied restrictive conditions, including the requirement that a homeowner had to own their home for more than 25 years and quarantining the proceeds for ten years. 

"As an alternative National Seniors has called for the implementation of a ‘Rightsizing’ program that exempts up to $150,000 in proceeds from the sale of the home from the Age Pension income or asset test. 

"Excess sale funds could then go towards critical services, such as health costs, significantly reducing the burden on government-supported health systems. 

"The recent changes to the Age Pension asset test (legislated in June 2015) will provide an even greater deterrent for seniors to right-size. Reconsideration should be given to a program that allows seniors to right-size without the threat of future reductions to their Age Pension payments." 

National Seniors recommends that the states and territories provide concessional stamp duty to older Australians to encourage downsizing and maintenance of homeowner-occupier tenure. 

"A reduction in stamp duty would encourage older people to right-size their homes and improve quality of life, while also providing many younger Australians access to suitable family homes which would not otherwise be available."


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