Housing plays a critical role in the health and wellbeing of older Australians (SCRGSP 2020). It serves the basic human need for physical shelter and contributes to physical, psychological, health and emotional security. Home ownership in particular, provides older people with security of housing tenure and long-term social and economic benefits (AIHW 2019). It can be a key determinant of wealth and financial security in retirement (PC 2015).
Many older Australians prefer to age in place, meaning they wish to stay in their local home or community (PC 2015). However, their capacity to do so can be influenced by:
- the appropriateness and quality of their home (for example, size, layout)
- their ability to modify their home to suit their functional requirements
- the cost and availability of suitable housing
- their need for formal care and assistance
- their proximity to services and social support.
Throughout this page, ‘older people’ refers to people aged 65 and over. Where this definition does not apply, the age group in focus is specified. The ‘Older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’ feature article defines older people as aged 50 and over. This definition does not apply to this page, with Indigenous Australians aged 50–64 not included in the information presented.
Older Australians have traditionally had high rates of home ownership. This has often provided a key financial asset on retirement. In more recent years, the rate of home ownership among older people has decreased, consistent with decreases in home ownership seen in the broader population (people aged 15 and over). In 2017–18, three-quarters (74%) of households with a reference person aged 65 or over were owners without a mortgage, compared with around 8 in 10 (79%) in in 2003–04 (ABS 2006, 2019).
Home ownership patterns for older people vary according to their living arrangements. In 2017–18, 9 in 10 (92%) older couple households owned a home (92%), with around 8 in 10 (81%) owning their home without a mortgage and 1 in 10 (11%) with a mortgage. Around 3 in 4 older lone person households (75%) owned a home, with around 7 in 10 (69%) owning without a mortgage and 1 in 17 (6%) owning their home with a mortgage (ABS 2019).
In 2017–18, 2.3% of recent first home buyers were aged 65 and over (age of household reference person), with a further 21% being changeover buyers - that is, they had previously owned a home (ABS 2019).
Renting in the private market
Often older Australians rent out of necessity rather than choice (PC 2015). Renting at an older age can be associated with the risk of poverty and adverse impacts on health and wellbeing (AHURI 2018). Older people renting can be disproportionately affected by insecure tenures and as such, be at an increased risk of homelessness (AIHW 2019). Furthermore, older households who rent can be more likely to move than those owning their homes outright (AIHW 2020).
In 2017–18, 1 in 7 (14%) households with a reference person aged 65 or over were renters. Most rented from a private landlord (64%) and around 1 in 4 (24%) rented from a state or territory housing authority.
In 2017–18 older lone persons were more likely to rent (22%) than older people in couple only households (6.2%). Of older lone persons renting:
- 13% rented from private landlords
- 6.4% from state or territory housing authorities.
Of older people in couple only households renting:
- 4.8% rented from private landlords
- 1.3% from state or territory housing authorities (ABS 2019).
For further information on housing tenure of older Australians see Older clients on Specialist homelessness services and Housing occupancy and costs.
Older people having difficulty meeting the costs of housing can be supported by housing assistance programs such as financial assistance and social housing (such as public and community housing). Whether it is managed by state and territory governments or community-based organisations, social housing can play a critical role in reducing financial and housing stress and improving physical and mental wellbeing.
During 2019–20, older people (aged 65 and over) represented:
- 1 in 5 public housing household members (21%, 121,900)
- 1 in 5 community housing household members (19%, 34,300) (AIHW 2021).
Women make up the majority of all occupants, and older occupants, in public and community housing. During 2019–20, females accounted for 59% of public housing and 59% of community housing occupants aged 65 and over (AIHW 2021) (see Figure 7.1).