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Planning red tape hinders age-friendly housing

The challenge facing governments and providers is how fast planning laws can change to meet seniors’ wishes to age in place, says a leading expert on housing.

State and local government planning laws that make subdividing blocks difficult are limiting the options for seniors seeking to age in their current location.

That’s according to CEO of the Grattan Institute think tank John Daley, who says that community objections to medium-density housing are also an issue.

John Daley

Mr Daley was speaking to Australian Ageing Agenda ahead of his keynote at Council on the Ageing Australia’s 2017 National Policy Forum in Canberra this month, which this year focuses on housing in later life.

There will be increasing demand for retirement villages where people own their unit and can receive aged care services if needed, Mr Daley argued.

“The issue is how fast we succeed in changing planning laws to make it possible,” he said.

“There will be an enormous pressure to have retirement villages close to where people are currently living and I am not sure we are providing that yet.”

Mr Daley said there was a similar challenge for people trying to downsize, which was usually driven by a desire for more suitable accommodation in their suburb.

Very little had been built in the way of medium-density accommodation suitable for downsizing,” he said.

“That’s a big issue emerging now, and if seniors want to age in place then they’ll have to start voting for subdivisions to move into the types of houses they want. If they don’t, there won’t be any. It is that simple.”

On affordability, Mr Daley said a key issue was seniors retiring as renters, as well as the declining proportion of those living in public housing given the shortage of it.

“These days, there’s more of a chance that if you don’t own your own house you are in private rental,” he said.

Rent in public housing is adjusted when an older person stops working, but this doesn’t happen for those living in private rental, he said.

While the Commonwealth Government provides rental assistance to eligible retirees in private rentals, there are questions over whether it is enough, Mr Daley said.

The falling rates of home ownership are not affecting today’s seniors but would be a big deal for those reaching retirement in 10 to 15 years, he added.

“We will have an increasing number of seniors who are renting rather than owning. We know they will be in a much more precarious financial position,” he said.

The COTA Australia 2017 National Policy Forum takes place on 22 June at the National Press Club, Canberra.

Australian Ageing Agenda is the event’s media partner.

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