While most of the nation is struggling to find affordable housing in the current crisis, older Australians are precariously at risk, but researchers have suggested reform of both social and alternative housing could be the answer.

As housing prices rise, much of the older population are struggling to remain or become homeowners. Mortgage debts have been increasingly carrying over into retirement, a trend that was almost unheard of 20 years ago.

More older people are entering their retirement without the funds to sustain them, says Council to Homeless Persons CEO, Deborah Di Natale.

This means they are being forced to remain in the private rental market and are losing the independence and security that home ownership provides.

Research conducted by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) has revealed that there is “a clear mismatch,” between the housing these older people need and what they are able to access.

Suitable housing for older people differs greatly to that of most other demographics. Safe neighbourhoods with pedestrian priority and affordable properties with two or more bedrooms, to offer access to family and support are where these people desire to live. But these houses are no longer an option for most older Australians.

The low-income renters of this age group are “most likely to be female”, have only a high school level education, be ‘young old’ (aged 50-64), unemployed, living alone and in need of higher assistance with daily activities.

These older women are at the precipice of Australia’s housing crisis – always balancing on the edge of falling into homelessness.

“Having to stretch that pension to make the ever-increasing rent is pushing more and more older people into homelessness,” says Di Natale.

This is resulting in the need for alternative housing options to be developed for lower income older people. These alternatives range from equity sharing (co-ownership with a partner) and cooperative housing (with multiple other owners), to transportable housing.

However, lead researcher from the University of South Australia, Dr Debbie Faulkner, states that “they have limited time to wait for the potential development of large-scale private alternative options.”

Another option is land leasing – where an individual owns their home, but not the land it rests upon.

“Not all buyers have sufficient cash to purchase a Land Lease home, but some could support a small mortgage as a way of obtaining security of tenure and preserving their capital.”

These land lease mortgages would be much cheaper than a regular property, however most banks currently refuse to lend money for these types of leases. This is “inconsistent, as banks do lend for other depreciating assets such as cars,” says Dr Faulkner.

The AHURI report suggests that this could be remedied by modifications to federal assistance schemes, like Commonwealth Rent Assistance. Many tenants are already claiming this assistance to support their land lease, despite the scheme not being intended to support home ownership.

A review of these schemes could “redirect subsidies to those in greater need,” and therefore “address the yield gap faced by rental-only communities providing affordable housing.”

As the government debates the best way to move forward with quality, affordable, social housing, they also need to ensure non-government housing options are supported and involved in the conversation.

Older Australians don’t just require affordable housing, they require affordable living – that caters to their unique assistance needs, on a systemic level and in daily life.