Housing crisis puts pressure on older NZers too

Much of the recent talk about the housing crisis has focused on young families sleeping in cars, garages or on friends' couches. And rightly so. It is completely wrong that young families in our communities are forced to live in such circumstances.

Less attention has been placed on New Zealanders at the other end of the age spectrum – older people without assets who are unable to afford market rent. With home ownership in NZ at its lowest level in more than 60 years, an increasing number of older people in our community need help with housing in their later years.

A Salvation Army research report released late last year estimated that by 2030 about 200,000 retirement-aged people in NZ won't own a house and will be unable to afford rent. As wage growth fails to keep up with runaway house prices and rents, home ownership is becoming an unreal aspiration for many. This places greater pressure on NZ to create more secure, quality housing for people priced out of the market.

The Christchurch Methodist Mission (CMM) is a registered community housing provider that provides warm, secure and affordable housing for those who need it – both young families and older people. CMM has a commitment to house the most vulnerable in the community and provide them the support they need. CMM's Wesley Village in Papanui has 26 bedsits and four one-bedroom apartments for older people without assets. CMM is one of the few aged care providers that provides rental accommodation as most retirement villages offer units and apartments on a license to occupy (LTO) basis. An increasing number of older people cannot afford the asking price for LTO units and apartments so they must continue to rent.

Not only does CMM offer affordable accommodation for older people but it also provides a village environment and sense of community. Regular outings and activities are organised by a CMM staff member and these help foster positive connections and reduce social isolation. Some of the outings over the last year have included a high tea to help celebrate Neighbours Day Aotearoa, BBQ lunches and trips to see home gardens around Christchurch.

A number of the residents at Wesley Village formed a committee last year to get to know each other, discuss matters of mutual concern, and identify ways to fill gaps that existed in the village. One of these initiatives was to develop a community garden and another was to install a wireless Internet network. The community garden has eight planter boxes of herbs and vegetables. The villagers have enjoyed spending time on this project, which has been a boon to their physical and mental wellbeing. 

Installation of a wireless Internet network at the village was made possible through a grant from the Manchester Unity Welfare Trust Board. Access to the Internet is fundamental to how people communicate, learn and do everyday tasks. This initiative has allowed people in Wesley Village who cannot afford their own Internet access at market rates get on-line. CMM is providing a couple of computers for communal access. The grant also allows for the provision of computer lessons and advice from Senior Net so they can learn the skills necessary to fully utilise the computers and Internet.

It is hard to know what will happen in the coming years with regards to housing in NZ – particularly for the vulnerable in our community. The Christchurch Methodist Mission is doing what it can to provide housing and a sense of community to those who need it now and will do so in future.