Community housing is a system in place to provide low cost accommodation to people who have limited funds, to no funds. The sad reality is that many senior citizens that rely solely on a Government pension struggle to buy or rent property in the private market, leaving them homeless. Georgia Hildebrand, former manager of Community Housing for non-for-profit organisation, The Bethanie Group, sheds light on this model of aged care in the following interview.
Who is Eligible for Community Housing?
In the community housing sector, people who are eligible must be on a disability pension, aged care pension (65 years plus) or people on a DVA (Veterans Affair pension).
How does one organise Community Housing?
Once an organisation is approved as a community housing provider by the State Government, they are supported with Government funding to build low cost social housing. Once housing has been established, either through acquiring existing government property or building new properties, applicants are housed off the Government’s joint waitlist. Mrs Hildebrand states that; “Government waitlists are extensive, it could potentially take an applicant five to ten years to secure a house. However, once the applicant is housed they have an ongoing periodical tenure.”
What are the costs of community housing and how much is covered by the Australian Government?
For an applicant to be eligible for community housing, they would need to be on a pension as stated above. The community housing provider charges 25% of an applicant’s pension in fortnightly rent. In most cases tenants would still need to pay utility costs, for example gas, water, electricity and telephone. The applicant is however, able to use extra facilities provided by the community housing provider. Mrs Hildebrand refers to Bethanie Dallyelup in Bunbury as an example; “Bethanie Dallyelup provides a library, social function centre, lawn bowls and communal kitchen; this is of course a high-end facility and it is not to say that all community housing providers could offer the same recreational facilities.”
Are there some who are still unable to afford the fees for this sort of housing?
Mrs Hildebrand comments that “if a person’s sole source of income is the government pension, then community housing is most definitely affordable.” However, in the event that an applicant has a greater cash asset of $80 000 or own any form of property they are deemed ineligible for community housing. It is in this instance that a person on the pension, while they might have a cash asset, finds themselves in a position where they could become homeless. Given that a cash asset of $80k or more is not enough to purchase a property, the applicant finds themselves in a predicament, as they can neither buy a property or afford to rent a property in the private sector.
Where are these units often located?
In general terms, community housing can be found on the outskirts of Perth. For example, Bunbury, Rockingham and Queens park. It is however a government requirement that community housing providers integrate housing within the metropolitan areas such as Scarborough, Doubleview and Woodvale. As Mrs Hildebrand states that, “it is therefore not to say that community housing is only offered in low cost demographic areas.”
What type of housing is generally available?
As government funding is limited, housing is generally low cost. Mrs Hildebrand sheds light on the housing typologies provided by Bethanie; “Bethanie provides apartment style accommodation in the regional areas of Western Australia, however throughout the metropolitan area Bethanie provides more townhouse style accommodation, consisting of three to ten units per block.”
How would you compare the standard of community housing to a facility such as Bethanie Gwelup or Bethanie Waters?
Mrs Hildebrand compares the standard of community housing at Bethanie Peel, to the retirement village Bethanie Waters; “Interestingly, when comparing the accommodation at Bethanie Peel to Bethanie Waters, which is a 148 unit retirement village, there is little difference” (see below image comparison of facilities). Bethanie Peel still provides the same facilities as Bethanie Waters, ie. Club house, library, social centre, hairdressing salon and allied health services. Since there is an expectation that residents who have purchased into a high-end retirement living facility, receive greater benefits, “it would be fair to say that these facilities are built to a higher standard unlike community housing which is essentially low-cost housing.”
Would you say that community housing is an accessible option for people who are unable to afford high end facilities?
“Yes, absolutely, since the government and the community housing providers accommodate tenants who are unable to afford property in the private sector.” Where there is a grey area that the government has not yet addressed, is those tenants that fall between the private sector and community housing. For example should an applicant have a cash asset of greater than 80k or own any form of land, they are deemed ineligible for community housing, but are still not in a position to afford accommodation despite being on a government pension. Mrs Hildebrand states that “this will inevitably increase the number of homeless people throughout the Perth metropolitan and regional areas.”
It is therefore essential that the government continues to support eligible community housing providers in their endeavour to build a greater portfolio of housing. It is also important that those who are unable to afford private housing, but are still ineligible for community housing, are addressed by the Government and that a solution is found in order to help reduce the number of elderly people who find themselves homeless.
Image One: Bethanie Peel entrance (community housing)
Image Two: Bethanie Waters (Independent living units)
Image One: Bethanie, Bethanie Peel, accessed 27 April, https://www.bethanie.com.au/residential/location-overview/bethanie-peel/
Image Two: Bethanie, Bethanie Waters, accessed 27 April, https://www.bethanie.com.au/villages/for-sale/bethanie-waters/
 My Aged Care, Help for older people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless (2017), accessed April 25, 2018, https://www.myagedcare.gov.au/help-home/commonwealth-home-support-programme/help-older-people-homeless-or-at-risk.