Older people who rely on the age and disability support pensions have been failed by the rental market and a significant increase in social housing is required to ease rental stress, a major charity says.
New research from Anglicare Australia found 0.8 per cent of rentals in Canberra were affordable for a single person on the age pension, down from 1.1 per cent in March.
Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said seniors needed more support to weather the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Older people and people with disability are at greater risk during this pandemic," Ms Chambers said.
"But instead of getting more support, they've been left behind."
Abbeyfield Ainslie vice chair Susan Gray said she was not surprised by the Anglicare report's findings.
Ms Gray said Abbeyfield Ainslie House, a not-for-profit communal home for 10 seniors on low incomes, was a brilliant model that enabled residents who were left with "little or no choice in life" to live with dignity.
Ms Gray, who previously worked for nearly a decade on aged care policy reform for the Department of Health and Ageing, said a communal house may not be "everyone's cup of tea", however it was important older Australians had a variety of social housing options to choose from.
The purpose-built home was paid for by the ACT government in 1989 and is managed independently by a voluntary committee.
Food, housekeeping, utilities, internet and maintenance are entirely funded by the residents' rent, which is $750 a fortnight, or 70 per cent of the pension plus federal rent assistance.
"When I worked in community care, the biggest reasons people moved into an aged care facility were loneliness and nutritional needs, because they stopped eating or stopped bothering to cook," she said.
"And if you don't see anybody from one day to the next, because you're frail or it's difficult for you to be mobile, then you really are excluded from the rest of society."
The Anglicare report, which surveyed 77,000 rental listings, found couples on the age pension could afford less than 2 per cent of rentals, down from 3.2 per cent in March.
Disability support pensioners could afford just 0.3 per cent of listings.
"Both [disability and elderly] have been left out of the government's payment increases," Anglicare's Ms Chambers said.
"Without action, people on these pensions will simply be left to the mercy of the market."
Affordability for households on disability and age pensions has been trending down for years, Ms Chambers said.
In the past 30 years, Australia's social housing shortfall had continued to worsen while affordability for people on government payments had plummeted, she said.
"We now have a shortfall of over 400,000 social homes," Ms Chambers said.
"We know why this is happening, and we know how to fix it."
Ms Chambers called on the federal government to provide more funding for social housing and include older people and people with disabilities in its support packages in the next budget.
Social justice activist Penny Leemhuis said the affordable housing crisis had "escalated" with the coronavirus this year, but even when there were more rentals available it was almost impossible to find accessible housing that suited people with a mobility disability like herself.
"It really is very disturbing," she said. "It's a basic human need."
She said there was still a "massive stereotype" and stigma associated with people seeking social housing, especially towards older women.
"As an older woman seeking housing ... I felt basically kicked to the kerb," she said.
Before moving into social housing, Ms Leemhuis struggled to find accommodation for years after retiring and had to move seven times in search of affordable rent.
She said the recent Ainslie park development proposal, which would provide eight units for older women as part of the ACT government's affordable housing plan, was "not even a drop in the ocean" in addressing the housing shortage.
"[Anglicare] are doing fantastic research," Ms Leemhuis said. "They have the data, they have the lived experiences, they have all the evidence, but it's falling on deaf ears."
"So is that lack of political will? Is it because they're not interested? Or is it because socially older people and people with a disability...are of lesser value in society?"
Chief Minister Andrew Barr has denied Canberra's housing stress problem is worse than in other parts of the country, after the Canberra Liberals said their proposed poverty commission would investigate rental affordability in the territory.
The proposal followed new Anglicare analysis which found Canberrans on JobSeeker would be left without a single affordable rental by the end of September.
Council on the Ageing ACT housing adviser Trish Low said the enquiries the council received supported Anglicare's findings, but the problems weren't limited to pensioners.
"Many self-funded retirees have incomes similar to the rate of the age pension but receive none of the reductions or support available to pensioners," she said.
"There is no crisis accommodation for seniors in the ACT and the wait lists for social and community housing are months or years long."
She said apart from the high cost of private rentals, there was "fierce competition" in the ACT for all rental properties and elderly pensioners were rarely the first choice for agents and landlords.
Ms Low said the ACT's guidelines for financial support for seniors needed to be reviewed.
"Many properties are not physically suitable for seniors who require aids...and the more affordable properties tend to be located well away from town centres and transport facilities," she said.
"The end results of these situations are usually the seniors will have to resort to temporary and unstable accommodation - move in with family or friends ... enter into a shared tenancy arrangement, or even move into residential care."