Nothing Too Late

Indians are now part of a new project to give the elderly more access to affordable housing.
*Vinod and his wife *Radhika (both past their 60s) arrived in Australia from India few years ago to live with their daughter who lives in Melbourne. But with no support from their daughter after a fraught relationship, they moved to a rooming house before getting into private rental paying $1200 a month. Initially they were on the on the Newstart Allowance and were receiving $500 each fortnight, all of which went into the rent.
“There is inevitably the problem of staying with married daughters in our society. Even after paying everything for the wedding, there is little you can expect in the form of help,” rues Vinod, a
talented photographer who enjoys working as a volunteer in the community. He is more fluent in English than Radhika, who has taken up English classes. They both have health issues which are managed with medication. Radhika has chronic back pain so is unable to walk upstairs.
In addition to the rent, their utility bills were massive as the landlord’s friends were running a car workshop from the backyard of the rental property and were using the mains power and water supply attached to the house. Vinod was asked to pay 50 per cent of the power and water bills. When he raised the issue with the landlord, he was told to either pay or look elsewhere to live. Those were anxious times.
Finally in 2012, Vinod found out about the Home at Last service through the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria (ECCV) where he was doing some work as a photographer. The ECCV and Housing for the Aged Action Group (HAAG) have partnered to ramp up support and advocacy available to CALD (Cultural and Linguistically Diverse) communities with a high proportion of renters. The rest is history. Vinod and Ranjana’s social housing application was approved within few months. Today they are proud tenants of a brand new two bedroom apartment with lift facilities near the city. Clearly, their housing woes are over.
Home at Last is a project run by HAAG, a 30-year old advocacy group based on the philosophy that older people should have access to safe, secure and affordable housing. “Home At Last is a specialist older persons housing information and support service funded by the Department of Health and Human Services. It assists older people, anyone above 55, to find long term affordable housing options such as public or social housing with the aim of providing a home that is secure, affordable and designed to suit the person’s needs for the rest of their life,” says Gemma White, project officer, HAAG.
Affordable housing includes public housing, social housing and independent housing or living (these are owned by churches or charities. These are the three main types of houses that we help people to access, says White.
The number of older people living in insecure housing has grown significantly in the past decade putting low income seniors at significant risk of homelessness, says White. The most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (2011) figures indicate that there were 19,934 people from non-English speaking backgrounds who were over 55 and renting in Victoria, says ECCV chairperson Eddie Micallef.
Interestingly, in January, Home At Last partnered with ethno-specific aged care providers and agencies, thanks to increased funding by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation for which $140,000 was allocated. It also aims at helping people from Indian background. Four language groups were identified as having high proportions of older renters and being at risk of homelessness. These are: Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Arabic Speaking communities, South Asian (Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Tamil) and South Slavic (Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian).
“This project hopes to get information to particular communities that we have identified as being more at risk of homelessness. So Indians were identified among the top 10 communities with the highest renters,” says White.
“And what we are finding is that the people who are coming through the service are living with families and for some reason are not reaching out. Maybe they were used to looking after the kids and now the kids are older and don’t need them anymore or it could be just some kind of tension for whatever reasons. Perhaps they also don’t have the independence and want to leave but don’t have the resources. Maybe they sold their property in India and have given the money to the children and legally don’t have any rights to the money and are stuck with nowhere to go. Maybe they can get private rental but don’t have much income. Those are the people we are targeting through the project. We can help to get them get subsidised rent,” explains White.
However getting through to Indians, who belong to a fairly conservative society, is not an easy call. Therefore, White says they are working with community reference groups which are groups of older people from a particular background. “So we are making community education packages and training bilingual workers who are from Indian backgrounds who will deliver this information to the seniors groups.”
A total of 81 people from India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka backgrounds have accessed Home at Last since the project began in 2012. Every month there are a few people from Indian background calling. “And especially since the project has come, there is interest being shown,” says White, adding, “People are entitled to this.”
Since 2012, HAAG has rehoused 90 per cent of its clients within six months in public housing, social housing or independent units.
All the houses are subsidised rents. “It is 25 per cent of your income for public housing and usually you have to have a pension, which works to about 100 dollars a week. Most people assume that there is a 10-year wait for public housing which if you are young person or with a family there is a long wait because there is not much housing stock. But for older people there is a different housing stock,” says White.
To be eligible, a person must be 55 years old, own assets less than 30,000 dollars. A car is not counted as an asset. One has to have permanent residency and be able to access an independent income, which means usually a pension. “So if you are over 55 and you meet those criteria you can get housing usually within six months. Sometimes if you are at risk of being homeless you can get within just a month. Sometimes if the housing is inappropriate, it can take about six months, depending on what you want.”
White says older renters are highly vulnerable because they could find themselves issued with a notice to vacate at any time. “We have had people who have lived in the same private rental house for 30 years and the landlord might pass away for example and the children take over the ownership of the house and decide to sell and suddenly the older person has to move.“
There is also no legal obligation for a landlord to modify the home to support the older tenant.
Home at Last accesses the government housing for these applicants. “If anybody has any enquiry about housing information they can come to us and from there we make a referral to other agencies that can get people housing. We can get people housing if they are in our catchment area. So when they call in they say “I live in this particular area and I need housing” and if they are eligible we get in touch with a service that is closer to where they are.”
Since launching Home At Last in 2012, 2279 people have been given advice and assistance; 550 people have been rehabilitated – 70 per cent within three months and 90 per cent in six months.
It’s time older people know there are options available and Home at Last ensures easy ways to access those options.
(*names have been changed on condition of anonymity)

Alicia Fredes: “I lived in my last rental place for 13 years, it was lovely but very expensive I was waiting on the public housing list for over 15 years. My husband died in 1984, I was left with no money at all. A friend put me in contact with HAAG. Now I am a house with a garden. I have more bills now as I also must pay for the gas, but the security is what I needed. Before I was always a little bit behind with my bills, I’m on time now.
Nev Spencer: “I was living in Perth with my second wife, we were together 25 years. She had a house in a nice part of Perth that we had renovated together. Her son and his children were living with us, he was doing online stock market. My wife had given him some money but I didn’t realise that it was most of the equity in our home. He got in trouble and we had to sell up to pay off his debts. The money she had given him affected our pension and meant we got about a third of a normal pension. That put a lot of strain on the marriage and I decided to head back to Victoria. I was put in touch with HAAG and now I have a house. It’s been a life changer moving in here. I was as low as I’d ever been, lost everything and I was beholden to others. This place brought me back to being a whole human being.”
Margherita Coppolino: “I had been living in Essendon in 14 years in the same street until I was told to vacate the house as the landlord wanted to sell it. I was about to be homeless, and I knew that looking for somewhere was going to be difficult as I had a dog. Home at Last assisted me in negotiating a successful outcome with Housing Choices, obtaining my first ever accessible apartment, in Seddon. Everything is at the right level for me.”
by Indira Laisram