Wendy Walters with granddaughter Lucinda, 14 months, has little left to spend after paying her rent.
Wendy Walters with granddaughter Lucinda, 14 months, has little left to spend after paying her rent. Paul Beutel

'It's criminal': Housing crisis looms for older women

BUNDABERG woman Wendy Walters is one of a hidden but rapidly growing cohort of Australians being hit hard by the housing affordability crisis: older single women.

Despite having worked all her life, volunteered for several community organisations, raised three children, including a foster son, and put herself through university as a mature-age single mother, Ms Walters is unemployed at 63 and struggling to afford rent.

After a long career in the community services sector managing large teams of workers and volunteers at organisations including the Red Cross, Cancer Council and UnitingCare, Ms Walters moved from Perth to Bundaberg three years ago to be close to her daughter's growing family.

Although she's had several jobs since moving to the unemployment capital of Australia, Ms Walters has been hindered in her ability to find full-time employment by health problems, having recently been diagnosed with glaucoma.

She says she has also encountered prejudice about her age from potential employers.

Aside from a limited amount of superannuation, she is dependent on the $360 a week she gets in Newstart payments, with little left over after she pays $275 rent.

She is worried about the future and doesn't want to be a burden on her daughter, Brooke, and her husband.

"I guess what I worry about most are the people out there who don't have someone to look after them ... it's absolutely criminal,” said Wendy.

The house she and her former husband owned was sold when they divorced when their children were young.

"You walk out with the kids and that's it. I think I got about $5000 when we sold the house,” she said.

The plight of older Australians like Ms Walters was on the agenda at the National Press Club last month.

Grattan Institute chief executive John Daley said declining rates of home ownership meant the number of older Australians struggling to find affordable housing would increase exponentially.

"At the moment, most 65-year-olds own their own home, but if you look at 45-year-olds, a substantial proportion don't and probably never will,” Professor Daley said.

"In 15 to 20 years' time we're going to be facing a real crisis.”

Rising rental prices and a hostile private rental property market are just part of the problem, Prof Daley said.



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