Single women aged 55 and over are overrepresented amongst the asset poor in Australia. They are also one of the fastest growing groups of homeless people nationally. This is a product of a number of gendered risks that accrue to women across the life course, including gendered differences in pay, superannuation and care responsibilities. It is also an outcome of a housing system that offers few options to low income households.

The project Ageing, home and housing security among single, asset-poor older women investigated the housing and home-making experiences of older women living in and around greater Sydney, Australia. It questioned how housing policy and governance and ongoing housing mobility inform how single asset-poor older women create a sense of home and security and explores the stability of women’s senses of home, security and belonging as they negotiated asset and income insecurity.

This research has motivated my growing concern with questions of care. It has driven my interrogation of the care ethics that inform housing systems and informed a growing research agenda concerned with the possibility of more caring and just cities.

The research was funded through an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellowship and supported by Western Sydney University. The research built on an earlier partnership with the former UnitingCare Ageing NSW.ACT 'Examining innovations in aged care: affordable housing, healthy ageing', which investigated residents’ experiences of an innovative housing model designed for single low income, asset poor older women.

A review was undertaken of key ageing and age-related housing strategy papers released by the Australian Federal government between 1996 and 2015. Twenty documents of three types were reviewed. These include: those that detail a national ageing strategy (including both government authored and commissioned reports from the Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential of Older Australians; reports by government bodies, ministers and departments (for example, Department of Treasury, Ministers of Ageing and related, and other Senate Committee reports); Productivity Commission reports (for full details of all reviewed documents see Power 2017a: 237).

Interviews were conducted with key informants at housing and ageing advocacy organisations including peak bodies and managers at not-for-profit housing companies. Interviews explored the key issues and policy trends impacting the housing opportunities of single, asset-poor, low-income older women. Interviewed explored how key ageing and housing policies affect women’s experiences of housing, housing choices, and ability to make home.

In-depth interviews and housing biographies were recorded with single women aged 55 and over living in a low income across diverse housing contexts in the greater Sydney region, Australia. Forty-six women took part in the research.

Respondents typically lived in private rental or social housing when they took part in an interview. Many of the social housing tenants had lived in the private rental sector before gaining their social tenancy. Some participants had experienced homelessness and a number were living or had recently lived in transitional or sheltered housing such as a homeless or family violence shelter.

The research was qualitative by design. There are substantial policy scoping and affordability analyses that indicate the scope of affordability and security challenges impacting low income and older renters (Easthope 2014; Faulkner & Fieldler 2017; Fieldler & Faulkner 2019, 2017; Hulse et al. 2011; Hulse et al. 2014; Jones et al. 2004, 2007; Petersen et al. 2014; Short et al. 2008). The purpose of this research was to build on that body of knowledge to develop in-depth knowledge of women’s experiences of housing. Methodologically this required in-depth, semi-structured interviews to explore the detail of women’s housing experiences. Participant recruitment continued until data saturation was achieved.

The research was in two phases. Twenty-three women took part in phase 1, recording a detailed housing biography and experiences making and moving home. An additional twenty-three women took part in phase 2. In this phase women were invited to briefly recount their housing biography before focusing in greater depth on key themes that emerged in phase 1, including: experiences making and moving home, experiences of housing security and quality, searching for and applying for housing, and landlord – tenant relationships. Experiences moving house were explored across both phases of the research. Data were analysed to identify core dimensions of women’s housing experiences across tenure using analysis software QSR NVivo.

Older Women in the Private Rental Sector: Unaffordable, Substandard and insecure housing

The report presents the experiences of single older women living on low incomes in the private rental sector in and around the Greater Sydney region, Australia. It highlights women’s experiences of unaffordable housing and discusses the impacts of housing costs on housing quality and budget management. It also presents women’s experiences of housing insecurity. Rent increases and evictions often required women to move house. Women described the challenges of moving house and how these compounded over time.

The report was launched on Tuesday 4th August 2020. The launch event "At Risk: Older women facing homelessness in Australia" was hosted by Housing for the Aged Action Group (HAAG), Social Ventures Australia, Western Sydney University and Older Women’s Network NSW. The Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO, Aged Discrimination Commissioner, and Helen Conway, CEO of YWCA and former CEO of Workplace Gender Equality Agency spoke at the launch.

Academic publications

Public commentary

Media – Radio

  • Older women tell heartbreaking stories of rental stress, ABC PM across Australia.
  • Older women in housing crisis as experts appeal for rental law overhaul, 2GB.
  • Older women struggling in the private rental sector, 2SER (at 46'00").
  • The Future of Renting in Australia , ABC Radio National Breakfast.
  • Older women in the private rental sector: unaffordable, substandard and insecure housing report released, news briefs on 2GB, ABC NewsRadio, 702 ABC Sydney, 774 ABC Melbourne, 666 ABC Canberra, 936 ABC Hobart, 612 ABC Brisbane, ABC Sunshine Coast, 720 ABC Perth, 1233 ABC Newcastle, ABC Upper Hunter AM, ABC Central Coast NSW, ABC Coffs Coast, ABC North Coast NSW, ABC North and West SA, ABC Goulburn Murray, ABC Illawarra, 891 ABC Adelaide, ABC Broken Hill, ABC Alice Springs, 105.7 ABC Darwin, smooth fm91.5 Melbourne, amongst others.
  • ABC Central West, Mornings - discussing life as an older renter.
  • ABC Radio Illawarra, Breakfasts - discussing the housing risks facing single older women who are not homeowners in the Illawarra region.
  • ABC Radio Sydney 5pm News - discussing Census 2016 release - Median weekly rent has increased faster than median weekly income. Single-person and single parent households are among the most affected.
  • ABC Radio Newcastle 5pm News - discussing Census 2016 release - there is a need for flexible and affordable housing options to accommodate families living on a single income.
  • ABC Radio Canberra Drive - discussing the need for greater security in the rental market and arguing for three key policy changes in tenancy legislation.
  • ABC Radio Brisbane Statewide Evenings program - discussing the changes needed to make renting more affordable and secure in Australia.

Media – Print

Public and scholarly talks, engagements and podcasts

  • Renting and COVID-19, City Road Podcast, November 2020.
  • Older women’s housing experiences, Launch of Wentworth Community Housing micro-units for older women, October 2020.
  • Older women renting during COVID-19, COVID-19 and vulnerable households: impacts and solutions, Affordable Housing Hallmark Research Initiative, October 2020. Housing.
  • Post-pandemic Urbanism and just recovery, The University of Sydney and The University of Wollongong, June 2020
  • Post-pandemic Urbanism and just recovery Podcast, City Road Podcast, July 2020.
  • Housing: an infrastructure of care, Health in Places, Spaces and Interspecies Relationships: towards more-than-human health promotion, University of Wollongong, Nov 2019.
  • Assembling the capacity to care: caring-with precarious housing, GEOPlan Seminar, Macquarie University, June 2019.
  • Housing: an infrastructure of Care, Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research, Heriot-Watt University, March 2019.
  • Renting in Later Life at Make Renting Fair forum, Parliament House NSW, October 2018.
  • Assembling caring capacity: care as a practice of caring-with. Keynote Address: Cities of Care Symposium, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Feb 2018.
  • Housing as a care infrastructure. National Homelessness Conference – Ending homelessness together, Melbourne, 6-7 August, Older people and homelessness session.
  • Assembling caring capacity, School of Environmental and Life Sciences Seminar Series, University of Newcastle, 2018.
  • Housing as a care infrastructure at National Homelessness Conference, Older people and homelessness panel, Melbourne, 6-7 August 2018.
  • Assembling caring capacity, keynote at Cities of Care Symposium, University of Melbourne, 2018.
  • Homeownership and the governance of ageing, keynote at Ageing on the Edge in NSW – A State of Crisis for Older Renters report launch, National Housing Conference, Darling Harbour, Sydney, 2017.
  • Housing systems and an ethic of care, The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology Seminar Series, Newcastle University, UK.
  • House and Home: Looking back, looking forward, Tenants Union of NSW 40th Anniversary Forum Monday 15th August, 2016. Discussion panel with Dr Dallas Rogers and Ned Cutcher, Senior Policy Officer, TUNSW.
  • Bridging housing and home: older women’s housing security, at Older women and violence: innovative policies, programs and practices symposium, Older Women’s Network (OWN) and School of Social Sciences & Psychology, Western Sydney University, September, 2016.

Media releases


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