Homelessness has many guises and it’s only recently that the plight of older, single women facing homelessness has been acknowledged.
Sadly, the size of this group is growing, but fortunately, so too is the attention this issue is receiving from philanthropy and the media.
With a lack of superannuation, breakup of a marriage or death of a spouse, many women who have worked their whole lives and never needed assistance before face homelessness for the first time when they are older. Imagine facing homelessness after a lifetime of working and caring for others!
Older women’s homelessness is not typically characterised by rough sleeping. They are more likely to be staying with friends, living in a car or living under the threat of violence in their home. Many don’t want, or are unable, to ask for help from family and friends. Often they don’t know where to seek support—or they are too ashamed to do so. It is, therefore, likely that the data that we have underestimates the significance of this problem and these women remain invisible.
Women’s Property Initiatives (WPI) provides secure, long-term, affordable homes for vulnerable women because we believe women face significant disadvantage in their opportunity and ability to earn income and accumulate savings.
Australian women earn 16 per cent less than men, and by age 65, women have accumulated about one third of the superannuation that men do.
WPI’s homes enable women to rebuild their lives. The more than 30 per cent of single women over 60 who live in permanent income poverty do not have the capacity to own a home or to pay private rent.
These women’s history is often unremarkable. Many have been independent, have worked and raised children. However, factors like poor health or age discrimination have left them unable to maintain employment.
Where does the current state of housing in Australia leave them?
Without an increase in appropriate, affordable housing, more older women will find themselves without a safe place to live.
WPI currently accommodates many older women who have endured the indignity of unstable or grossly inadequate housing.
With generous funding from the Estate of the Late Edward Wilson and Perpetual Trustees, we will soon complete a town-house development in inner-Melbourne with properties suitable for older women. They will be secure, affordable, adaptable, long-term rental properties that allow women to age in place and live with dignity. Tenants going into these properties are the lucky ones. They now have time to breathe, knowing their tenure is secure and their rent is within their means.
The supply of affordable housing in our society is wholly inadequate. Unfortunately, for community housing providers like WPI, the development of new housing stock is costly and doesn’t meet demand. Our society needs innovative solutions to address the affordable housing crisis.
In 2015 WPI commissioned a research report on shared equity housing for older single women. Put simply, a shared equity model enables women with modest assets to use them to enter into joint home ownership with a community housing provider like WPI. They will still have to pay rent on a portion of the property, but they will have peace of mind from knowing that the rent is affordable and their investment and their tenancy is secure.
A shared equity arrangement supplies secure, appropriate and affordable housing into the future for women who do not have the financial capacity to buy a home on their own or service a mortgage. These women would otherwise be depleting their savings with insecure tenure in the private rental market.
This model also makes the acquisition of new housing stock more affordable for WPI. We can create more impact and help more women.
WPI’s research identified strong interest in shared equity housing, but while it has been successfully implemented internationally, there are no schemes in Australia aimed at older women. WPI has designed its own shared equity model tailored to this group and the market conditions in Victoria.
With the generous support of an Innovation Grant from Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, WPI is set to pilot a shared equity program. The funding ($300,000 over two years), will enable us to move forward on a small scale to offer homes to older women with modest assets. We are finalising the legal structure of this arrangement and identifying women who are willing and suited to shared equity housing.
After the pilot we hope to be able to roll the program out on a wider scale, securing the housing futures of many more older women who deserve a home of their own.
We believe that shared equity is one of the innovative, affordable housing solutions that our society desperately needs. Funding and building the capacity to be able to offer it more broadly is where the challenge lies, and where philanthropy can make an impact.
Jeanette Large is CEO of Women’s Property Initiatives (WPI), a not-for-profit provider of affordable, long-term homes for women at risk of homelessness. With extensive experience across the housing sector, Jeanette has worked in youth housing, led a support service for homeless women and children and has been with WPI for ten years, the past six as CEO. A licensed real estate agent, Jeanette is also CEO of Property Initiatives Real Estate, a social enterprise that she helped establish to create a revenue stream for WPI to expand its housing stock. She was recently elected to the Board of the Community Housing Federation of Victoria.
Hear more from Jeanette Large at the 2017 Generosity Forum.