Over one million homes sit vacant as elderly homeless rates rise

Jun 29, 2022
Latest national survey data shows over one million homes sitting empty. Source: Getty

The 2021 Census data has revealed more than one million homes are sitting empty as Australia’s housing crisis continues, causing elderly homeless rates to soar.

The national survey found that with 1,043,776 homes, believed to be privately owned, sitting vacant, Australians are resorting to alternative dwellings with 58,000 people living in caravans and 30,000 living on houseboats.

The housing crisis has seen pensioners priced out of affordable housing as the cost of living continues to spike, Australian National University demographer, Dr Liz Allen, told The Project that the empty homes were a “punch in the face” for those suffering from housing inequities.

“What this Census does is allows us to bare witness in real time, to the impacts Covid had across a wide range of things in Australian society,” Dr Allen said.

“The over one million homes should definitely be a priority for Governments across Australia to consider how we can truly make Australia fairer and redress housing inequality.”

The recent Census data comes as another blow to seniors after the Rental Affordability Snapshot National Report April 2022 found that pensioners are amongst the hardest hit by the housing crisis, with less than one per cent of affordable houses available to pensioners.

An inquiry into the housing crisis, submitted by The Ageing on the Edge NSW Coalition, said that the lack of affordable housing is pushing Australians over 55 into homelessness.

The report found that senior homeless rates are expected to get worse, stating the crisis was an issue before global factors perpetuated the issue.

“There is a significant shortage of social and affordable housing across NSW and the current COVID-19 related challenges and bushfires in 2019-20 among other issues exacerbated the demand for affordable housing,” the report read.

“Even before these crises, there was an increase in the experiences of homelessness among older people. From 2011 to 2016, the number of people aged 55 and over experiencing homelessness in NSW increased by 42% (from 4,529 to 6,407).”

The report noted that its findings are likely a “gross underestimate because many older people do not identify as experiencing homelessness, do not disclose their housing situation due to shame and stigma, and therefore do not access mainstream housing and homelessness services”.

A review from the Retirement Living Council found that women over the age of 55 are at the greatest risk of homelessness through this crisis.

Retirement Living Council president Marie-Louise MacDonald said “there are potentially up to 240,000 women aged 55 and over who are at risk of homelessness and that a large portion of these is the ‘missing middle’”.

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