The number of women over the age of 55 experiencing housing stress and homelessness is rising in Australia, but the increasing interest in tiny homes may provide a viable solution for these women.
- Planning for a tiny home village is underway at Coffs Harbour
- The idea came after many women in the region feared they would become homeless
- The number of older women who are private renters has risen sharply in recent years
The quirky, transportable homes have become the darling of the reality TV scene, and social media groups sharing ideas and tips for tiny homes boast tens of thousands of followers.
Now moves are afoot on the NSW mid-north coast to establish a tiny home village, specifically for older women.
Kim Connolly came up with the idea after increasingly common conversations with women her age about their financial difficulties in her home community of Coffs Harbour.
“Over and over again women kept coming to me and saying, ‘I’m going to be homeless, if not in the next few months, in the next few years’,” Ms Connolly said.
“I found out all the statistics and research and I didn’t have an answer, [but] I love tiny houses and I thought, ‘That’s it, I’m going to build one’.”
Retiring into poverty
On census night in 2016, there were an estimated 6,866 women over 50 who were homeless — the figure representing a 31 per cent increase since 2011.
The number of older women renting privately had also increased in recent years.
In 2006, there were 91,549 older women who were private renters. By the 2011 Census, that figure had almost doubled to 180,617.
Dr Yvonne Hartman and Dr Sandy Darab from Southern Cross University studied the plight of single, older, non-home-owning women in regional areas, publishing their research in 2017.
A public call-out for study participants living in the Northern Rivers region of NSW provoked an overwhelming response.
“We were just swamped with replies, from other regions as well — people from other parts of Australia were ringing us and wanting to be interviewed,” Dr Hartman said.
Dr Hartman and Dr Darab interviewed 47 women for their study and found most had common experiences.
Most had been married with children and ended up single because of a marriage breakdown, in which they tended to lose the family home.
“Many of them had children and many of them took on the caring responsibilities for those children, which meant that their working opportunities were limited,” Dr Hartman said.
Most of the participants had relied on single parent pensions, which Dr Hartman said kept them in poverty and limited their housing options to renting.
“That takes up quite a big proportion of an income like a single parent pension, so that is socially excluding to start off with,” she said.
“You’re left looking for very run-down places and some single women we interviewed were living in the bush in sheds and caravans to try to keep down those housing costs.”
The study found women had clear ideas about what sort of housing would suit them as they aged.
For all of them, stability and security of tenure were priorities.
The tiny home solution
Ms Connolly became so passionate about her tiny home village idea, she has now set up a tiny home building business.
She said about 80 per cent of her enquires were from over-50s looking for affordable housing.
“It actually makes me angry that women have worked all their lives, they’ve taken time off for their children, they’ve taken time off for their ageing parents, and quite often there’ll be a divorce in there, or they’re just single women and despite all of this, they’re ending up with no room at all to get secure housing for themselves for the rest of their lives,” Ms Connolly said.
“It’s women who are just like me and they’re shaking their heads saying, ‘I don’t know how this happened, I never thought I’d end up in this situation’.”
Ms Connolly was now in the process of setting up a not-for-profit organisation to facilitate her tiny home village concept.
She has been offered land on which to build the village and was working through the development application process.
“My idea of the village would be 15 houses — there would be three houses that are rental houses, the other 12 would be owned by the occupants, there’d be two couples and the other 10 houses would be all older women,” Ms Connolly said.