The shared-housing trend is not confined to senior Australians anymore — an increasing number of 30- to 40-year old professionals are now living in share houses as home prices and rentals continue to climb.
In a think piece on The Conversation, University of Sydney researcher Sophia Maalsen said the growing trend of share houses can be attributed to a combination of shifting social norms and the soaring costs to rent or buy homes, particularly in capital cities.
"An emerging group of tenants – professionals, couples, young families and students – who cannot afford to buy or rent an entire property of their own are increasingly turning to shared occupancy as a way to afford housing," she said.
Maalsen studied the phenomenon in her paper, ‘Generation Share’: digitalized geographies of shared housing, in which she found that financial constraints are the driving force behind the trend. However, the trend is gendered in the older age range, with women being more vulnerable to significant financial constraints.
"Women are the fastest-growing group at risk of homelessness in Australia. Many have limited superannuation to draw upon due to time out of the workforce to raise children or manage the home," she said.
Maalsen said those who are living in share houses would have to make certain adjustments which would render them vulnerable to being exploited by their head tenants or landlords.
"There are obvious social challenges inherent in this situation. These include learning to negotiate domestic spaces in a new way," she said. "Similar to share-housing experiences among younger groups, older participants mentioned occasional household conflicts and were aware of the need for personal space."
However, Maalsen said that there are also those who respond well to social housing, particularly due to its social value. This is apparent with senior Aussies who may have increased feelings of isolation and loneliness.
"Older residents value the social aspects and the new friendships that sometimes develop in share houses. Flow-on effects of this include an increase in their sense of safety and security, knowing that they are not alone should anything untoward happen," she said.
With this, Maalsen said that the Australian government should revisit policies concerning senior citizens and retirement. She said that for the past 30 years, the system has prioritised producing homes as "as a site of profit rather than housing as a site of home."
"For older people, the situation is particularly complex. Australia’s retirement policies promote home ownership as the pathway to a financially secure old age. That leaves the growing number of older Australians who don’t own their own home to experience increased financial stress," she said.