bigstock-Portrait-of-senior-couple-13894298ADVOCACY groups say Western Australia's seniors are suffering the worst of the rental crisis.

With our ageing population and a population influx, they say more affordable housing is needed now.
WA is facing a seniors housing crisis, welfare groups say.

Many Perth seniors are struggling to find affordable homes a problem seniors’ advocacy groups say will grow as the population ages and demand for affordable housing increases.

With the city’s high rents, low vacancy rates, long public housing waiting lists and expensive commercial retirement villages, the options left for stressed seniors are causing them to become isolated and depressed, one group said.

National Seniors’ WA spokeswoman June MacDonald said the lack of affordable housing was a "major problem’’, which had been exacerbated by the resources boom.

"With 1000 or 2000 people moving into WA every month, or every week as some people say, it makes it harder and harder for seniors to afford housing,’’ Ms MacDonald said.

"It’s a major problem and it’s inevitable if seniors don’t own their own home ... they’re forced out as rents go up."
There were a number of reasons pensioners might not own their own homes in retirement, the advocacy groups said.

Many "asset rich but cash poor" seniors chose to free up funds by downsizing to retirement villages, rentals, public housing or a smaller home.

Others had to give up the family home after divorces, bereavements or other circumstances.

Seniors were often forced to move in with their families when rents went up or find a cheaper rental in suburbs farther from Perth, Ms MacDonald said.

She said it could cause isolation and depression if seniors had to move away from their familiar ‘life structures’ or limit their lifestyle significantly.

"If you pay more in rent, you’ve got less for food, your lifestyle has to change and it doesn’t allow for any extra treats,’’ she said.

WA Council on the Ageing COTA acting chief executive Chris Jeffery said increased rents had had a big impact on the one in eight seniors who rented.

The median rent in Perth is $450 a week, with a rental vacancy rate of 1.9 per cent, according to data from the Real Estate Institute of WA.

"Seniors on a fixed income or the pension just can’t do it,’’ Mr Jeffery said.

"The pension is only about $250 a week and median rents are about $450 a week.’’

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 18 per cent of the people who receive Commonwealth Rent Assistance are seniors.

However, the extra $121 of CRA that seniors with an aged or disability pension can access, plus the pension, would not be enough to cover the median weekly rent for a single person.

And the problem will only get worse as Australia’s population ages, according to statistics from the WA Department of Housing.

According to the Department’s Affordable Housing Strategy 2010 2020, 30 per cent of people in public housing are seniors.

Demand for affordable housing from seniors was expected to "increase dramatically’’ over the next decade as the population aged, with double the number of people over 65 and quadruple the number over 85 by 2056, the report said.

"It’s a shocking situation,’’ Mr Jeffery said.

"There seems to be less available and people are waiting a long time for housing.’’

Mr Jeffery said the number of seniors on the public housing waiting list about 11 per cent according to the Department of Housing was a concern for COTA.

He said the lack of housing for seniors could be compared with Perth’s traffic congestion problems.

"It’s a problem that’s crept up on us, but we’ve tended to close our eyes to it a bit,’’ he said.

"But instead of sitting around later saying, ‘oh my goodness, isn’t it bad’, we need to do something now.
"We’ve known about the population trends and the increasing numbers of seniors for years, but social housing hasn’t kept up with it.

"I think WA Premier Barnett will be faced with the issue in this term.

"It hasn’t surfaced too much yet, but it’s set to become a big issue in the next few years."

Department of Housing director of market innovation and partnerships Greg Cash said the department was committed to increasing affordable housing for all West Australians, including seniors and others on low to moderate incomes.

One of the key initiatives under the strategy was a State Government partnership with the private sector to deliver affordable housing, Mr Cash said.

He said the department was also looking at "relocatable ancillary dwellings’’, or "granny flats’’, as an affordable housing option for seniors.

"These initiatives support the principle of ‘Ageing in Place’ for seniors, as well as increasing social inclusion,’’ he said.

Mr Cash said that since 2010 the department had built or bought 1022 homes for aged persons under its social housing rental program, and nine more were under construction.

National Seniors WA spokeswoman Ms MacDonald said there needed to be more affordable housing for seniors in suburbs closer to Perth and the State Government needed to consider making "universal design" housing suitable for as many people as possible a requirement for developers.

Mr Jeffery agreed universal design, preferably two bedroom properties, needed to be standard and said the State Government should also put pressure on local governments to look at zoning more land for seniors.

(source: The Sunday Times:18/03/13)