Locked Out: Millennials aren’t the only people suffering in Sydney’s housing market

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Words || Layla Pope

I’m gonna have to move soon.

The owners want to move back in or renovate or whatever people do with one of their spare homes. Looking for a new place is grim as a renter, especially in Sydney when you can’t afford shit. The humiliation of looking at what is offered in your price range as well as the physical task of packing and relocating all your belongings. The looming threat of losing your bond if one of the sofas scuffs the floor on the way out. Knowing you might be doing it again in six months’ time. I feel pretty sorry for myself. I feel worse for my mum though. It has to suck to keep moving at her age.

There is this strange, very bougie assumption that most older people in this country own their homes; that boomers chewed up the market and now millennials are facing a lifetime of renting or living with their home-owning parents. Home ownership in Australia has been declining for the last quarter century and shows no signs of slowing down. And yes, this rightly terrifies young Australians who fear they will never break into the property market, but I would argue it is a far more stark and confronting reminder to older renters that the Australian Dream was not theirs to achieve.

Our pension system in Australia is based on four pillars: The Age Pension, our Superannuation guarantee, voluntary savings and homeownership. Research by the Grattan Institute has found that superannuation savings only account for about 20-25% of the wealth of households, with owner-occupied housing remained the most important source of wealth for households. So, what if you face retirement without owning a home?

Women, generally, retire with less superannuation and personal savings than men, and this is especially the case for older women who have traditionally been shut out of the workforce to raise children, or worked menial jobs. This is particularly relevant for current retirees, as it will take two more decades before the typical retiree would have been contributing the 9% Super Guarantee to their savings. This means the last pillar these women have to lean on is the Age Pension; too bad that this year’s Rental Affordability Snapshot found that out of 67 000 properties surveyed, less than 1% were affordable on the pension.

The Council on Ageing Australia stated that the Affordability Snapshot “paints a bleak picture” and that older people, reliant on the Age Pension, are the most vulnerable to inflation in rental housing. Similarly, Mission Australia’s report Ageing and Homelessness: solutions for a growing problem reported on the sickening levels of financial strain placed on older renters, and Jeff Fiedler, from the Housing For the Aged Action Group, reported that is now “standard” to see older Australians paying 70-90% of their pension on rent. It is apparent that this is an urgent national issue that demands immediate attention, and yet the current discourse around housing in this country is absurd.

It is frustrating to listen to the media class lecture me on my avocado consumption as a factor in my potential for homeownership. It’s infuriating to listen to Barnaby Joyce (btw suck shit idiot) lecture people on moving away from their family, friends, jobs to find affordable housing.

But this incessant focus around young people’s potential to live securely ignores the lived present-day realities for so many older people, particularly women, in this country. It is unacceptable to think that those that have contributed to this country, paid their taxes, worked hard all their lives – all the things these snobs keep telling us are what is locking millennials out of the market – are still suffering under exorbitant housing costs in this country.

Go speak to a 75-year-old single woman spending 80% of her pension on a private rental, her life’s income being used to pay off the mortgages of some aspirational idiot’s negatively-geared investment property, and then tell me again how it’s all about pulling yourself up from your bootstraps “just like the older generations did”.