Senior housing crisis on the horizon
Alison bids farewell
Moreh Home co-founder Alison Neill has cared for the elderly all her adult life and has finally retired at the age of 88. …
Peter Dalton was 90 years old when he discovered he needed to find a new place to live.
The former school teacher had spent the past 20 years renting a house in Torbay, Auckland.
But when the owner returned due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it meant his accommodation was no longer an option. So Dalton was forced to compete with others for somewhere to live.
He wanted to find a self-contained unit in his community on Auckland’s North Shore, but that was impossible.
“I hadn’t been in the rental market for quite some time, so I didn’t realise how difficult it was to find a place. There really wasn’t anything available,” Dalton said.
Dalton required a small, well-maintained, insulated property without too many stairs.But there was a lack of these kinds of properties on the market.
Dalton felt his age was held against him.
“The landlords were looking for younger people. With an older person you have got to do certain things to your units to make them habitable, which not many landlords seemed prepared to do,” Dalton said.
Dalton eventually hit some luck, finding an unlisted unit that suited his needs on Waiheke island.
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Despite having to move far from his community, Dalton counts himself as one of the lucky ones.
“There are older people all over living in caravans and shacks and things, so I feel very lucky to get it,” Dalton said.
The number of retirees living in rental accommodation was expected to rise.
By 2053, almost half of over-65s would be renting, said Kay Saville-Smith a researcher from the Centre for Research Evaluation and Social Assessment (CRESA). That would mean 640,000 over-65s renting, including 326000 renters over 85.
Tge demographic shift in home-ownership is a course that has been charted by Bev James,principal of private research firm Public Policy & Research.
James said that while homeownership remained an ideal for many New Zealanders, the number of people who could achieve it was in structural decline.
“Basically if you have not got into home-ownership by your 40s, your chances of doing so by retirement age reduce substantially,” James said.
She predicted that with an ageing population this situation was not going to get better any time soon.
“If the rental markets continue how they currently are, it is not going to suit older people. The social cost of that situation on the public purse is going to be very considerable,” James said.
The Treasury raised concerns in its latest Long-term Fiscal Statement about “old age poverty as we see an increase in the number of people not owning their own home.”
It was also a concern for Retirement Commissioner Jane Wrightson.
“The pension is designed for you to be mortgage free, or in a little subsidised council flat. Both of those options are not as available as they were 25 years ago,” Wrightson said.
Some retirees were already doing it tough existing on the pension, and the property shortage was only going to put a further squeeze on them, Wrightson said.
“There are many people living on the pension that are certainly not comfortable. Those current levels of comfort are just going to reduce over time largely due to increased housing costs,” Wrightson said.
Pete Matcham, housing spokesman for Grey Power, said the growing number of older people entering retirement without owning their own homes was causing significant issues in the rental market.
The fact that both first-home buyers and renting retirees were seeking small, one-bedroom units has caused prices to rise, Matcham said.
Nationwide, rent had risen 28 per cent across all property types and regions in the last five years.
Matcham said older New Zealanders were starting to face the reality of these higher prices.
“The rental market is going crazy. Older people who do not own their home, almost by definition have fewer assets. If you are relying on NZ Super to pay your rent then there is really not a lot left over for other essentials such as food and heating,” Matcham said.
Joanne Reid, health promotion and policy manager at Age Concern, said in some cases the senior housing situation was so dire that some retirees had become homeless for the first time in their lives.
“It might be because of their change in income or sometimes the death of a partner or separation, but it is a growing number of people who are forced to live without homes,” Reid said.
Some older people were living at campgrounds, a situation that could become more common, she said.
Reid called for more investment in public and social housing from the Government, along with construction of a more diverse range of housing.
But more than this, Reid said she wanted the conversation about senior housing to shift from dollars and cents to a humanistic focus.
“We advocate for making it possible to age in place. Because often your social connections are in a particular area, and you want to feel safe in the locality you are