Mark Lanyon prefers to live alone. Instead, the 57-year-old shares a house in Berwick, in Melbourne’s outer suburbs, with three other boys aged 19 to 40.
Lanyon hasn’t shared a house since he was in his early 20s, but after getting a job at a factory near Dandenong six months ago, he had no choice.
“I lived in shared houses when I was younger, but never came across such a diverse range of people,” says Lanyon.
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“When we were young, we shared a house more to learn about life and not live with our parents. Now it’s a necessity – it costs money.”
He’s still looking every week for his own apartment, but hasn’t found anything close to his $300-a-week work. So now he pays $270 a week to share a four-bedroom house – with all bills included.
He gets along with most of his housemates, and with the others he makes it work – like many sharing a house, there are tensions over cleanliness, bills, how often the heater comes on.
“It’s a lonely life. It is impossible to have a relationship, says Lanyon. “It’s not like you can take a lady home and cook her a meal.”
Lanyon is one of the growing number of Australians living in shared housing in mid-life.
On the other side of Melbourne, Jemima Jones, who uses they/them pronouns, is self-employed – working full-time running her own business growing and selling plants to nurseries and working a second job as a model to supplement her income.
But the 44-year-old cannot afford to live alone, so shares with a student in his 20s.
“I can’t afford to live alone unless it’s super cheap. I’ve lived in housing now since I was 18, so that’s 28 years, they say.
The home, located in the heart of Preston in Melbourne’s north, costs just $800 a week – a bargain for a two-bedroom property in the area – but is due to be demolished within the next five years.
Finding housing stability will involve thinking outside the box.
“I’ve talked to other queer friends about renting or buying land [together], but whether it happens or not I don’t know. We’re joking about building a queer retirement village.”
The pandemic reduced the number of co-operative homes across the country, but the age of those living in them is rising, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Reserve Bank of Australia.
The 2016 census showed that the co-op demographic was starting to age – with only half in their 20s and one in five over 50.
Generational rent becomes generational share, says City Futures Research Centre’s Chris Martin.
“They correspond to a generation earlier that would have become homeowners,” he said.
“With the rising price of housing, more are renting and more are sharing housing and doing so further into life.”
It’s not just renters who are sharing space anymore – homeowners are opening their doors to flatmates to help pay the mortgage.
Katie Slatter lives in a large house in Newcastle with her 18-year-old daughter. She struggled to pay the mortgage after her ex-husband moved out, so she got a housemate.
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Slatter works in the housing sector and knows how difficult it can be, so chose someone who might otherwise struggle.
“She hardly ever came upstairs … we didn’t really have a relationship with her,” Slatter says.
There were other new situations to navigate.
“[She] would also bring home a different person each week, which is fine, but it meant I had another stranger in my house each week – we don’t lock the connecting door.
“I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it – I don’t want to be the sex police,” she says.
Catherine Caine is 43, has a disability and shares a home with three university students in their 20s.
“If you can imagine how terrible the housing situation is for everyone, it’s three times worse if you have a disability, she says.
Six years ago, Caine left a long-term relationship and moved back to Newcastle. It was impossible to find a rental car on a single income, and one with no stairs was even more difficult.
“There is nothing that will cover my disability needs that will cost less than 60% of my income,” she says.
Caine says the future “is scary” — she’s on a waiting list for public housing but has no idea when she’ll be able to get in.
“There’s 87 people on that list, I could be number 86. It’s probably my only recourse, honestly,” she says.
“As much as I don’t want to live in public housing, that would be the only way that works.”