1 Dec 2015

Homeless baby boomers unless we act soon - Salvation Army

8:47 am on 1 December 2015

Tens of thousands of baby boomers risk becoming homeless in retirement unless the government takes urgent steps to deal with the problem, a report says.

Christchurch housing.

The baby boomers had it good as a generation, but some face renting in retirement. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The research, released today by the Salvation Army, estimates a third of people retiring by 2025 will not own their own home, and given current superannuation rates, will require state rental assistance.

The baby boomer generation - those born between 1946 and 1965 - had generally had it good over the years, the report said.

"They grew up in a time of growing prosperity and rising levels of home ownership... they enjoyed cheap university education and easy access to jobs."

But the Salvation Army's social policy unit, Sue Hay, said they might not have it so easy in retirement.

Salvation Army director of social policy Major Sue Hay

Salvation Army director of social policy Major Sue Hay Photo: RNZ / Lauren Baker

"What we've got is huge numbers of baby boomers entering retirement and for the first time ever, about a third of those retirees will not own their own home," Mrs Hay said.

"We risk discovering that New Zealand is going to have a population of homeless pensioners."

The problem was most acute among younger baby boomers, who did not benefit from earlier state-funded home ownership programmes, Mrs Hay said.

The Salvation Army believes the number of people requiring government rent assistance will rise from 35,000 in 2015 to as many as 100,000 by 2025. It estimates that by 2030, almost 200,000 retirees will not own their own homes.

The report's recommendations included extending rent subsidies to council housing, and ensuring enough aged care homes were built in the next decade.

The government also needed to review the accommodation supplement, which had not been raised since 2007 despite soaring rental costs in some cities, Mrs Hay said.

Director of Auckland University retirement policy and research centre, Susan St John said that review needed to extend to the superannuation scheme itself, which paid people living alone more, regardless of whether they owned their own home.

"I think we need to have another look at [it] and pay one rate to everyone, and then have a really well-designed supplementary system for those with higher living costs."

Susan St John.

Susan St John. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

It could also be time to consider income-testing superannuation so the scheme could afford to support those who really needed the help, Dr St John said.

"Is it really right that we're paying [superannuation] right up the income scale, to some people who are still in the full-time workforce, to millionaires even, at the same time as we're squeezed in so many other different directions?"

Research director for the Wellington-based social research group Cresa, Kay Saville-Smith, said the problem the report identified was merely a taste of things to come.

"In general, baby boomers are actually quite well-housed - and so the lesson you get from baby boomers who are not well-housed ... provides a picture of what it's going to be like for the cohorts and the generations that haven't been able to get into home ownership."

The report's recommendations were things that should be done, but they were also too reactive to deal with the future problem, Ms Saville-Smith said.

"You have to really think about how you can raise the rate of home ownership again, but you also have to think about how you're going to make ... the rental market in particular, work for the increasing number of people who are going to end up in the rental market for all of their lives."

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