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The real-life Golden Girls? Older Aussies weather the housing storm by moving in together

Share houses are traditionally the domain of broke uni students who don’t mind taking turns using the bathroom and washing dishes, but that’s increasingly changing.

As Australia’s housing crisis makes finding affordable digs more of a slog than ever, a surprising group are joining the housemate hunt.

More and more seniors and pensioners are shacking up together in an effort to cope with cost-of-living pressures, interest rate hikes, and soaring rent prices.

“Due to the changing rental market and rising cost of living, we are seeing more diverse share houses with more retirees and empty nesters,” said Claudia Conley, community manager at, Australia’s largest share house website.

“We definitely expect this to increase, particularly in regional areas with ageing populations and high migration during the pandemic.”

It’s on for young and old

Although older Aussies are more likely than any other demographic to own their homes outright, insulating them from the worst of the housing crisis, the number of mortgage-free retirees has slipped from 79% in 2004 to 74% in 2018.

Likewise, a slight increase in the number of seniors who are privately renting – 14% in 2018 compared to 12% in 2001 – means there are more over-65s who stand to benefit from splitting the bills with a flatmate.

A growing number of older Aussies are choosing to live together as housemates. Picture: Getty

With rents rising more than 14% in the past 12 months and vacancy rates at historic lows across the country – less than 1.5% nationally – finding a place to hang your hat has rarely been such a trial.

That’s particularly true for seniors, who may face housing discrimination navigating the private rental market or struggle to make their pensions stretch to cover the week’s rent or other bills.

And that’s where sharing comes in, Ms Conley said.

“The bills are so much lighter when you’re splitting the load… sharing a home, whether you’re the tenant or the homeowner, has financial benefits for all,” she said.

Thank you for being a friend?

But the pros of getting a roommate aren’t just economic.

Older Aussies are more likely to suffer from social isolation than any other age group, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The loneliness and isolation epidemic among older people could be eased via sharehouse living. Picture: Getty

If more seniors were to join a share house, it could “help pull an ageing population out of loneliness”, Ms Conley said.

“There are so many benefits to living in a share house – number one, there’s always someone around to leave a light on for you, make a cup of tea with or watch a show together.”

Home share programs have long matched elderly householders needing a bit of extra help around the house with younger flatmates, providing the latter reduced rent in exchange for domestic help and companionship.

But what about older people rooming together? It sounds like the zany premise of a sitcom.

There are many benefits to living together. Picture: Getty

But for Eve Grzybowski, it’s reality. In 2009, the now-78-year-old and her husband teamed up with two other senior couples to purchase a four-acre property on Mitchells Island on the New South Wales Mid North Coast.

The six pensioners, all best friends for decades, pooled their resources to build their collective dream home.

They moved in more than a decade ago and have spent their golden years together ever since.

“I think there is something in people that is tribal,” Ms Grzybowski said. “When we were all thinking about the future and inevitably retiring away from the city, this simple arrangement was just the best way to support each other.”

‘A smaller footprint’

Aside from the group’s age, the share house functions much the same as any other.

The three couples teamed up in 2009 to build their own share house.

Everyone is responsible for different chores, they take turns cooking dinner, and they hold occasional meetings to organise maintenance and discuss finances.

And no, Ms Grzybowski hastened to add, they’re “not swingers”.

Splitting living expenses such as groceries and energy bills means they enjoy a lower cost of living and “a smaller footprint”.

As the country is gripped by a worsening rental and cost of living crisis, she said she wished more people with a spare room would consider opening up their homes.

“I feel really sad about the housing affordability crisis we keep hearing about because I know lots of people have space in their homes to accommodate people,” she said.

“I don’t know why they don’t.”

The arrangement has worked well for the friends.

But more than the money saved or the convenience of cohabitating, the biggest benefit is the camaraderie and “lovely relationship” she and her roommates share, which is something Ms Grzybowski said many people have told her they envy.

“I think it captures people’s imaginations,” she said.

“We were all in our 60s when we thought up this idea, and now we’re all in our 70s and one of us is about to turn 80… so it’s been more successful than I dreamed.”

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