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No backyards for kids: why blaming the elderly won’t put a roof over your family’s head

July 19, 2019

It’s a well-known fact that Australia currently finds itself in somewhat of a pickle when it comes to the whole housing situation, and older Australians have been taking some of the blame for depriving young families of houses – but why? Surely these folk, who have contributed to society, worked hard throughout their lives and managed to snag their slice of the Australian Dream, deserve the chance to grow old in peace?

Some groups don’t think so, with cries of ‘think of the children’ ringing out loud left, right and centre. But are older Australians really the cause of the issue, or does it run deeper? The simple answer is: yes, it does.

In our opinion, the major issue surrounding the undersupply of detached housing for families is the lack of suitable housing for the elderly. And this is all caused by ineffective economic and planning policies.

For example, under the current laws in Canberra, a punitive lease variation charge is imposed on a lease owner wishing to redevelop a piece of RZ2 zoned land (the type of block that would allow the construction of low density townhouses), and these charges are prohibitively high, effectively discouraging redevelopment.

Here’s the thing: many of Australia’s more mature citizens would actually love to move out of their current houses, but there are quite a few reasons why they won’t, and none of them involve stubbornness.

No suitable housing stock is available

As discussed above, current planning laws can discourage redevelopment. This means that there is a distinct lack of provision for empty nesters or the elderly in terms of suitable living options (aka, solutions other than ‘putting them in a home’).

If these charges were to be reduced, and more effective planning guidelines that allow for demand driven redevelopment were to be put in place, this could allow for more geographically suitable development. In turn, the elderly would be able to move into housing that is fit for their lifestyle, freeing up some detached housing for families.

This would also create new opportunities for revenue streams for the Government such as increases in rates, land tax and stamp duty. It would also reduce the need for urban sprawl with its inherent costs of roads, new schools and other infrastructure.

They’ve put down roots

Many older Australians wish to stay in their homes because leaving means they’d need to be away from their networks. If there was suitable housing in their own area, they could be around what they know while enjoying living in a residence that’s more suited to their needs than, say, a house with a lot of stairs or a large and high-maintenance garden.

They like their gardens and pets

If a homeowner enjoys keeping pets and gardening, a high-rise apartment is hardly going to satisfy their lifestyle needs. The provision of single-level, villa style residences would allow them to enjoy the same type of lifestyle in a smaller home.

They’ve worked hard and don’t want to compromise

For many Australians, their home can constitute the result of their life’s work. They’ve worked hard to save a deposit, and invested countless amounts of time and emotional energy into the creation and maintenance of a home. Memories have been made there, children have been raised there and the owners are comfortable.

Recreating the Australian Dream

This is undoubtedly a huge problem for our fair land, but how can we solve it? The best way to ensure a sustainable housing market for both families and older Australians is the implementation of sound planning laws that reflect the needs of the current market.

And there’s another bonus. Revitalising our popular older suburbs will not only meet the high demand for this type of accommodation but also bring new levels of energy and pride to great locations around Woden, Belconnen, Weston Creek, Tuggeranong and Queanbeyan, not to mention the even more central parts of the city.

It has been reported in the media that a suggestion exists to force the elderly to move out of their homes (though, interestingly, nobody seems to be taking ownership of this idea). But forcing older Australians out of their homes does not solve the problem, rather it just creates a whole other plethora of issues for a different group of people – perhaps those who deserve our care and respect the most. The idea is ludicrous, and, as quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald: “it’s offensive”.