15 August 2017

What do you wish for in a house?

| Emma Davidson
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Woman blowing on a dandelion with a house in the background

Housing is a big deal for everyone in the ACT. Costs keep on rising, but incomes aren’t keeping pace for some people. For others, it’s also about the availability of housing that is suitable for family members with disabilities, ageing, allows pets, or is close to friends and family.

Even if you find a home with rent or mortgage repayments that are affordable, there may be high energy costs because it’s a one-star house in a city with extremes of temperature. Or it might be so far away from work that you spend all the money saved on transport costs. Or the kids can’t get into the school that is best for them because you’re out of area. Or you have to find new support services because you’re in a different area to where you were before.

Access to suitable housing, and housing affordability, impact on women in ways that are different to men. This is because women make up the majority of single parents, carers for disabled and elderly family members, older Canberrans with chronic health conditions, people on low incomes, and people who have experienced domestic violence.

The Women’s Centre for Health Matters will be running a housing forum for women to share their thoughts and concerns about housing in the ACT on Wednesday 13 September. We’ll share their concerns with the ACT Government through their current consultation on housing for the two lowest quintile households, and make a submission to the ACT Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Planning and Urban Renewal’s Inquiry into Housing.

We’re hoping to hear from women about how the kind of compromises they make to cover their housing costs, whether they have had difficulty finding a home that fits their or their family’s needs, and what they’re looking for in housing for the future.

The majority of single parents in the ACT are women (79% in the 2016 Census), and the majority of them are in the two lowest quintiles for household income. 52% of female sole parents in the ACT earn less than $1,000 per week, and another 34% earn less than $1,999 per week. That’s 86% of women who are sole parents in the bottom two household income quintiles. When we think about the kind of housing these women need, we need to take into account more than just their reduced income. They will also need more bedrooms, perhaps a small backyard and permission to keep a pet, easy access to schools and public transport to get to work, and being close to their support network of friends and family.

For older women in Canberra, housing affordability is also an issue. Eighty nine per cent of all single women in the ACT aged 65 or older are in the two lowest household income quintiles. But that doesn’t mean they have only their own needs to take into account when looking for a place to live. Fifteen per cent of older women in the ACT provide unpaid care to a person with a disability, and 19% provide unpaid care to children. This means that they may need housing that is also suitable for people with disabilities or children. They may also need to be able to keep a pet, whether for therapy or companionship.

When looking at their housing needs as they age, being close to services and people who know them may also be important. There are 2,132 people in the ACT who speak a language other than English, but speak English either not well or not at all. Of these, 63% are women. There are also 8,282 residents of the ACT aged 65 years or older with a need for assistance with core activities, of which 62% are women. This means help with things like self-care, mobility, or communication.

Young women in Canberra also have a need for suitable, affordable housing. Young people have lower incomes due to higher unemployment and underemployment, and working in lower paid jobs. But they still need housing that provides easy access to transport, and they may also have health conditions that impact on the kind of housing they need or where it is located. Safety in the area they live may also be a concern, based on the feedback we receive on our Safety Map about areas they have to walk or cycle through on their way home from uni or work after dark.

To understand what kind of housing we need in the ACT, we need more than just statistics on income levels and where most people work or study. We also need to understand their family relationships, what compromises are manageable and what are must-haves, and how they manage energy costs in a rental property where improvements to the property are a decision for the landlord. We hope ACT women will tell us what they’re wishing for.

All statistics quoted are from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Census of Population and Housing.

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