Secure and affordable housing is an increasing worry for elderly Australians

At an Australian house auction. Image: Getty.

The average housing costs of older (65-plus) outright homeowners in lone-person households were $38 a week in 2013-14, the Australian Bureau of Statistics calculated, compared to $103 for older social housing tenants and $232 for older private renters.

Fortunately, over the last several decades almost all Australians who depend on the age pension for their income have been outright homeowners, and their housing costs have thus usually represented a small proportion of their pension. However, this situation is changing and the significance of this is profound.

Drawing on 125 in-depth interviews conducted in Sydney and regional New South Wales (discussed in detail in my book, The Australian Dream: Housing Experiences of Older Australians), it is evident that these substantial differences in housing costs combined with differing levels of tenure security have a fundamental impact on the capacity of Australians dependent solely or primarily on the age pension to lead a decent life.

The interviews I conducted with the older homeowners, particularly with couple households, indicated that provided they did not have extraordinary expenses (high medical bills, excessive smoking and or drinking, having to look after a child etc), they managed reasonably well on the age pension. They could run a car, engage in modest leisure activities, travel and even save.

Margaret, who lived by herself, was content:

Well I can [and] I do participate. I don’t go to the opera because that’s too expensive... I don’t go to live shows because they’re too expensive, but that’s okay. I do other things. I’m a very busy person.

Although the housing costs of older social housing tenants are high relative to homeowners, the fact that their rent is pegged at 25 per cent of their income means they have a fair amount of disposable income after paying for their accommodation.

Betty, a social housing tenant, summed up their situation:

In public housing you see, even if they’ve only got the old age pension, nothing else, because their rent is only a quarter [of their income], they manage, most of them quite well. People who don’t manage are the ones who drink, smoke a lot... or who have an illness that requires heavy expenditure on medication.

In addition, historically, older social housing tenants have had guaranteed security of tenure. John spoke of the enormous benefits of this security:

When you know your accommodation is right, this is especially when you’re older, you can pursue other interests. You’re more relaxed and I do feel, I really feel you’re in for a longer life you know... I’m quite content and I think it’s just wonderful that the government does supply these houses.

Private renters live with insecurity

The third group, older private renters dependent on the age pension for their income, are in a completely different position. A large proportion of them are having to use a large proportion of their income to pay for their rent.

Also, once their lease ends they can be asked to leave at any time – no grounds have to be given. The resulting perpetual insecurity combined with the cost of their housing is the basis for enormous anxiety and distress.

Maggie, a private renter in Sydney, said:

It [the age pension] is unrealistic. I mean I thank God for it because I’d never make ends meet otherwise. I really thank God for it, but it’s unrealistic. You cannot live on that. I mean what would you live on? It’s a joke. I was lucky that I had the income from working on the side... I couldn’t have lived like that without working a bit...

Helen painted a bleak picture. Even though she was drawing the couple pension she was clearly suffering enormous psychological distress:

Sometimes I think I’m too old for this. Maybe I’ll be dead in a year’s time and we wouldn’t have to worry about it. All the stress... I said to my doctor, ‘Why keep us alive when there’s nothing there for us?’ I said, ‘There’s no help for us,’ and she agreed with me... I told her we couldn’t get into a retirement village or even buy a caravan, or mobile home. We couldn’t even buy that. So we have a little bit of money but we can’t do anything with it. It’s not enough to help us.

When I asked Janet, who had been a private renter for a long time, how she responded when she heard that she had been accepted for social housing, she said:

I was absolutely, well, I sat down and cried. I literally sat down and cried because I felt like, well, at least I had the protection of the Department of Housing whereas before of course I didn’t have any of that. I had no protection whatsoever... My children were having children so they couldn’t [take care of me]. They’re just working-class people and so they couldn’t care for me... So consequently I couldn’t see any future at all until I got the word from Housing that I have got somewhere.

Numbers of vulnerable older people are rising

The power of affordable and secure housing to create a foundation for a decent life for people dependent on the age pension is clear.


However, there is no doubt that an increasing proportion of older Australians on the age pension will be dependent on the private rental sector in coming decades. This is because of the housing affordability crisis and increasing divorce in later life, combined with the virtual stagnation of the social housing sector.

In 2013-14, 4.8 per cent of couples aged 65-plus and 9.5 per cent of people living by themselves were private renters. Among 55-to-64-year-olds, these proportions were almost double: 8.4 per cent of couples and 20.7 per cent of lone-person households in this age cohort were private renters. Almost all of these households will still be private renters when they become dependent on the age pension – so the prospects for this group are grim.The Conversation

Alan Morris is a professor at the University of Technology Sydney.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.