About housing

“The number of older homeless women in Australia increased by over 30 per cent between 2011 and 2016 to nearly 7,000. We have an ageing population, a high cost of housing, and a significant gap in wealth accumulation between men and women across their lifetimes. Without innovative solutions this problem will continue to increase.”

- The Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO, Australian Age Discrimination Commissioner

Housing and older women

The demand for social and community housing is high and there are often long waiting periods. Currently, 19 per cent of social housing and 16 per cent of community housing tenants are older women.[i] With an ageing population, increasing numbers of women experiencing housing insecurity will add pressure to an already stressed social housing system.

We’re prioritising older women because we know they are a rapidly growing cohort of those experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness in Canberra.

Traditional gender roles and the gender pay gap mean that many women are not as financially independent as their male counterparts. While many women have conventional and stable housing histories, as they reach older age their circumstances can change dramatically through no fault of their own.

If women separate from their partner, they are often left with little financial resources both immediately and in the longer term. People who divorce or separate and remain single are about half as likely to own their home after they have turned 50 as those in a relationship.[i] While re-partnering is the most common way to counteract the economic effects of divorce, women are increasingly less likely than men to re-partner as they age.[ii]

The death of a partner can also have an impact on women’s housing, particularly for those renting in the private market. For people relying on a second income to support the rent, mortgage or other housing costs, the death of a spouse can lead to the surviving partner needing to relocate or experiencing financial hardship.[iii]

Where women may have once moved in with their children in retirement, or after divorce or death of a partner, trends in families having children later in life can limit the capacity for a family to house three generations under one roof.[iv]

Older women who are homeless often fear for their personal safety and end up staying at friends’ houses or sleeping in their cars. They also often feel a great deal of shame when they contemplate the fragility of their living circumstances and often don’t seek help and support.

For those women who do seek help, they often find that they don’t meet the eligibility criteria for traditional housing support as they don’t have dependents or complex health needs and aren’t able to access these services.

Nationally, older women were the fastest growing cohort of homeless people between 2011 and 2016.[v] In the context of a shortage of affordable housing, an ageing population, declining home ownership levels, and continued and accumulative economic disadvantage experienced by women, the number of women experiencing and at risk of homelessness is likely to grow.

What is community housing?

What is affordable community housing?

What is public/social housing?

[i] Gavin Wood et al., ‘The Implications of Loss of a Partner for Older Private Renters’ (Final Report No. 116, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, 2008) 66.

[ii] Gavin Wood et al., ‘The Implications of Loss of a Partner for Older Private Renters’ (Final Report No. 116, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, 2008) 88–92.

[iii] Gavin Wood et al., ‘The Implications of Loss of a Partner for Older Private Renters’ (Final Report No. 116, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, 2008) 2.

[iv] Australian Human Rights Commission, ‘Older Women’s Risk of Homelessness: Background Paper’ (2019) https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/age-discrimination/publications/older-women-s-risk-homelessness-background-paper

[v]Australian Bureau of Statistics, Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness, 2016, Data cube: Excel (2018); Australian Bureau of Statistics, Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness_2011, Data cube: Excel (2012). Findings based on use of the data cubes.