Growing number of older Australians are retiring with debt, paying unaffordable rents, and don’t have a stable place to call home; new research shows

A delegation of older people impacted by the housing crisis is visiting Parliament House in Canberra today to demand better for Australians as they age.

They arrive in Canberra with new research that shows increasing numbers of older people are retiring with mortgage debt or living in private rental. Staggeringly, more than 227,000 older Australians on low incomes living in private rental, are paying unaffordable levels of rent. It’s taking a toll on the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of a large and growing amount of Australians as they age.

Seventy-year-old Marie Sillars, who is a member of the delegation and travelled to Canberra from the Sydney suburb of Ryde where she lives in community housing, says the delegation is there to make sure the voices of older people impacted by the housing crisis are heard.

“We have all lived very different lives, but our common struggles with housing brought us together,” she says.

“The system failed us. We’re here to try and stop that from happening to others.”

The research was commissioned by Housing for the Aged Action Group and conducted by researchers at Swinburne University of Technology, Western Sydney University and Curtin University.

Its findings include:

  • 81% of over 55s living in private rentals and in the lowest household income quintile – 112,000 people – are paying unaffordable levels of rent.
  • 55% of over 55s living in private rentals and in the second lowest household income quintile – 115,000 people – are paying unaffordable levels of rent.
  • In the decade from 2011 to 2021 the number of older Australians living in private rental grew by 295,000, an increase of 73%.

At the same time there is a growing number of over 55s living with mortgage debt. In 2021 23% of over 55s had mortgage debt, up from 19% in 2011. That is 581,000 more older Australians living with mortgage debt than a decade ago.

Alongside the experiences of the women in Canberra today and many more older people around the country, the research speaks to the massive crisis facing Australians as they grow older, HAAG executive officer Fiona York says.

“Housing is a human right. It’s fundamental to people’s wellbeing as they age. And yet this research shows how dire the housing situation is for many older Australians,” York says.
“Every single person deserves a home. Governments have a responsibility to ensure everyone living in Australia can access one.

“With increasing numbers of older Australians renting, or retiring with a mortgage, this is a crisis that without action is only going to get worse.”

HAAG and the members of its delegation are calling on the Federal Government to work with the State and Territory governments to:

  • Build public and community housing units across the country to house at least 260,000 older renters on low incomes, living in marginal housing or experiencing homelessness
  • Fund a range of additional housing options appropriate for older people, including affordable housing, low-cost retirement housing, or co-operative housing
  • Strengthen rental protections for tenants by providing for longer leases, setting minimum accessibility and energy efficiency standards, and removing no-fault evictions
  • Provide additional tailored specialist services for older people who may struggle to access help otherwise

Access the full report here.