Australia’s housing affordability crisis isn’t just affecting young families and young adults; it’s also leaving the elderly, particularly widows, vulnerable to homelessness, said Nieves Murray, chief executive of IRT Group, in an opinion piece for The Guardian.

Murray said that while Turnbull’s government is too concerned about the problems of first-homebuyers it isn’t paying enough attention the over 15,000 senior homeless. “As hard as it is for young people to get a foot on the property ladder, it’s even harder for pensioners and low to middle income renters to get a foot in the door … any door,” she said.

Private rental housing has become more expensive than that which is owned. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, people who rent are more likely spend their income on housing than those with mortgages. “Sadly, 60% of people on low incomes, like pensioners, experience rental stress,” Murray said.

Murray continued to wonder why governments of all levels seem to be so focused upon younger buyers for first homes and ignore the serious problems faced by renters with low to moderate incomes and pensioners.

“In a country that prides itself on ‘a fair go’, perhaps we feel it’s unfair for a young hard-working couple, with lives full of hope and opportunity, to have slim chance at owning their own home,” Murray said. “More unfair than the plight of a homeless pensioner who ‘had their chance at life’ and should play the cards they’ve been dealt.”

Australia estimates that over 2,000 Australians aged 75 years and older live in rough conditions every night. Many of these homeless people are widows and widowers who become homeless when their husbands pass away.

A couple that depends on a full pension can live off $650 per semaine. The pension for a spouse who is not living can be reduced to $440 per weeks. These are the expenses for single pensioners in Sydney’s 2-bedroom rental apartments.

“Surprisingly, housing choices for pensioners who live in their own home are also limited. Many are languishing in empty family homes, too afraid to make a change through fear of the unknown or, for many, the real risk of losing their pension,” Murray said. 

While the government is considering taking up the Property Council of Australia’s proposal to quarantine a portion of home sale profits from the age pension asset test, Treasurer Scott Morrison is examining the situation through “the first-home buyers’ lens,” eager to free up underutilised family homes for the younger generation.

“Instead, he should be seeing the potential of this proposal to increase housing choices for older Australians, and ultimately enhance their health and wellbeing,” Murray said.

Murray stated that government could help seniors in need by offering affordable, senior-friendly housing options. These arrangements can provide both economic and medical benefits.

“People who live in age-friendly housing, like retirement villages, require fewer GP and hospital visits and delay demand for residential aged care by over six years,” she said.

According to the Retirement Living Council such housing could also save the government up to $2.16bn in healthcare costs. “[More] importantly, people who live in socially-connected, age-friendly housing report feeling happier, they also have a greater capacity to self-fund aged care,” Murray said.