News & Events

‘Sort out housing’, LP resident urges

February 27, 2019

Sort out your accommodation, if you can, before you get too old. Simply put, that was the message to middle aged women that Leith Park resident Kathleen Abram had when speaking to researchers as part of a project run by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.

Kathleen, 68, was one of several Leith Park women who participated in the conversations that will contribute to a final report.

“I know a lot of older women have no control over difficult circumstances that arise and put them in a vulnerable position when it comes to housing. But I would urge middle-aged women to think about housing now and look at what the future holds for them, especially women who are on their own,” she said.

Kathleen knows a lot about vulnerable housing, being alone and bouncing from one rental property to another. She raised her two children alone, working all sorts of jobs to pay rent. Since 1983 she has moved 18 times usually because the rent was increased too much, or the property owners wanted to live in the property, or do it up.

Life changed dramatically for Kathleen two years ago when she arrived at Leith Park, leaving a rental property in nearby Montmorency.

“I landed. And straight away I could feel a peace and tranquility that I hadn’t felt for a very long time. I was happy to be in a country setting amongst the gum trees. There was also a great sense of relief because I knew that I wouldn’t be asked to leave for the reasons I had in the past,” Kathleen said.

“I was on the wait list for almost six years, but the timing was perfect. My health was not great by the time I was accepted because of the stress of having to keep working to pay my rent.”

Recent ABS statistics show a 42 per cent increase in people over 65 paying unaffordable rents in Australia since 2011, including 132,301 people whose rent is more than 30 per cent of their income.

Anglicare’s 2018 Rental Affordability Snapshot revealed less than 2 per cent of available housing stock in Australia was affordable and appropriate for a single person on an age pension. This has led women over 55 to become the fastest-growing category of people experiencing homelessness.

The report, “Retiring into Poverty”, released by the National Older Women’s Housing and Homelessness Working Group, said systemic factors such as lower superannuation, unequal pay and forced time off to raise children were key factors of the increase.

“Housing affordability in the major cities has grown so significantly in the past decade that women who weren’t in a position to purchase a home during their lifetime, and are currently single in older age, are really suffering in the private rental market in major and regional cities

The number of older women accessing the private rental market increased by 45,000 in a five year period, which according to the report, was not viable for older women who were experiencing poverty due to systematic factors.

Kathleen, and many other women living at OCAV’s four villages, are the women behind the statistics. She wants women who can prepare for their old age, to do so now, even though retirement might be 20 years away.

Many women cannot influence their financial circumstances, such as those subjected to family violence, or women who have done unpaid work in the family most of their adult life and then divorce and have difficulty finding employment that can cover rent and other living costs.

Kathleen is very happy she came to Leith Park and has made new friends and participates in lots of the social events. Each week she volunteers at the Liscombe House kiosk and chats to many of the residents.

“I really enjoy going to Liscombe House and often the people come to the kiosk for a chat as much as to buy something. Just this week a lady came around to see me. She was upset and I gave her a hug and got her a cuppa. It’s good to be able to do something for someone else and it takes no effort really,” she said.

“When I first came here and was very stressed, Karen Ernest, the Residents’ Coordinator
said that living here would make me feel better and she was right. I do feel better. I am part of a friendly and caring community, I have established a garden, I cook a lot and take food to my elderly neighbour, I walk into the St Helena shops three times a week and I go on camping adventures when I can.”

“I’m glad I joined in the research, because I realised I had something to say that was important. Middle aged ladies – be wiser and plan. Somehow we have to get that message across because if you end up on the pension there is no opportunity to save then for housing.”

Living in Melbourne as an older woman – vital conversations, is finding out what it is like for women over 55, from a range of backgrounds, living in Melbourne, particularly focusing on housing, health and climate change. The research will build on an earlier report, Vital Signs 2017. The findings will be released soon.

I love the ‘magimix’ of people who make up the community and that it is a safe and happy place to live. - Jo Portlock

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