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Affordable Housing: Women over 50 in crisis and why small is the new big


A recent article about the homelessness epidemic facing women over 50 prompted Deb to dig into the issues surrounding affordable housing with full-time property investor, consultant and real estate advisor, Ian Ugarte.

Ian is Australia’s leading micro apartment, rooming house and boarding house specialist and author of “Small is the New Big”“.

In this interview Deborah and Ian will cover the issues surrounding Australian affordable housing crisis and discuss alternative solutions prompting us to rethink our view on space and property and how we live and invest in the market.

“Small is the New Big” is also the name of the company Ian runs with wife Christine Manning. The goal of these two entrepreneurs is to transform the way we view property and residential investment by driving policies on Multigenerational and House of Multiple Occupancy and creating affordable housing opportunities all while maximising Return on Investment.

So how did Small is the New Big start?

Living in a 400sqm four-story home, Ian felt he was incongruent when speaking about homelessness so he and his wife Christine decided to sell their property and move their family of 6 into a two bedroom, one bathroom 85sqm house.

“What happened in the first couple of weeks, I noticed our interactions had changed. We started to talk to each other, we started to argue more but we had to sort it out because we had to cross paths,” said Ian.

“Subsequently we’ve actually moved to 72sqm,” said Ian.

“It was a realisation for me that the family home in Australia had gone bigger and bigger and bigger and we’d lost touch of what the family unit is,” said Ian.

Women in crisis

The Daily Telegraph article published on April 28, Ageing Women in Financial Strife. The New Face of Australian Homelessness outlines the homelessness crisis facing women in their 50’s and 60’s as a result of result of divorce rates, rising rents and gender pay gap.

As board member of Future Housing Taskforce, Ian has the opportunity to talk to ministers at different levels and provide advice on how to use space correctly and efficiently. The Future Housing Taskforce was set up to counter the rise of unaffordable housing in Australia. Ian also speaks at homelessness conferences about affordability in the housing sector.

In this next clip, Ian Ugarte and Deborah discuss the impact the housing crisis on women over 50 and the strategy he is employing through Small is the New Big to create affordable homes, ease pressure on social housing and build greater communities – all while maintaining his return on investment.

Citing the US example of “Bestie’s Row” where three families built small environmentally sustainable cabins on one plot of land, Ian and Deborah discuss the benefits of similar projects in Australia.

According to Ian similar “Bestie Row” projects are already up and running. Ian is currently working with Brisbane City Council who plan to support the project as a test case to form policy on building more community-based affordable homes.

“We’ve lost community because we build these rows of houses that look exactly the same,” said Ian.

“We build rooming and boarding houses as an investment strategy for ourselves, there’s a number of reasons we do that,” said Ian.

“Firstly because it needs to return us some money so we can continue to invest,” said Ian. “Secondly, it creates a whole lot of affordable outcomes for people to be able to rent at a cheaper space and thirdly, it actually takes pressure of government housing and social housing.”

Another surprising realisation for Ian when renting out this type of room and boarding house was the large number of women over 50 who were applying out of a lack of affordability elsewhere.

“There is nothing available for them other than what we’re providing,” said Ian.

According to Ian, these newly independent women make “absolutely brilliant tenants” and “create a beautiful stable energy in the house”.

“I was really surprised that (this) demographic actually existed so we started to do some research,” he said.  “Essentially, the research says that a woman who makes it to the age of 70 has an 80% chance of making it to 90,” said Ian.

3 ways to achieve better housing affordability in Australia

Diving further into housing affordability, Deborah asks Ian his suggestions on the three main policy changes needed to take some heat out of the Australian housing market?

Ian discusses house sizing and the need to deliver policy that provides developers with incentives and cash returns for building smaller properties.

“The first thing is, we build too big,” said Ian.

“At 246sqm we have the largest houses in the world, there’s four bedrooms in there and we’ve got 2.5 people per household,” said Ian.

“So it’s a product that has empty bedrooms,” said Ian.

“Secondly, the policies around being about to use those extra bedrooms as a source of income without breaking council policy,” said Ian.

“Currently, in most jurisdictions, if I want to rent out components of a four bedroom investment property, I’m not allowed to do so because those people don’t know each other,” said Ian.

“Once we get policy that (is) right, where we can individually rent out components of those 4 bedroom houses that will then make it a positive geared property for the owner,” he said.

“Then we don’t have to worry about getting rid of negative gearing, no one will actually negative gear so there is a tax lift to the benefit of the Australia government,” said Ian.

Finally, Ian states that in order to address affordability there needs to be greater innovation around building and manufacturing.

“Building, in general, is a cost base that’s never going to change so if we can find initiatives to be able to support different sustainable outcomes for buildings (it will become more affordable),” said Ian.

“When we start building smaller on the same block of land, it costs less then someone can afford to buy it,” he said.

The boarding house – a new take on living together in communities

If you lived in a school boarding house as a teenager the thought of communal living as an adult over 50, probably sends you into a cold sweat! But with the issues surrounding housing affordability in Australia, Ian Ugarte believes we need to change our perspective.

“It is our speciality area and there are policies around the country that are put together to specifically build these,” said Ian.

“New South Wales New Generation Boarding House Policy (says) you do need communal areas once you’ve got more than four rooms,” said Ian.

“In Brisbane City Council we’re building properties that have five one bedroom apartments within the same complex and a communal kitchen and dining area,” said Ian.

“The communal kitchen and dining room never get used simply because people like their space, they like to cook in their own room and they have occasional meetings and they meet up in there for a drink every now and then,” he said.

“(There is) a fabulous policy across Victoria that allows you to create nine self-contained areas and all of these are in low residential areas,” said Ian.

However, Ian goes on to describe ways of investing in such a property for a group of people through the creation of a unit trust.

Affordable Housing Solutions in Australia and around the world

In this video, Ian talks about an Argentinan architect providing affordable housing solutions by building homes as the superstructure (walls and roof) with only half the house filled in.

“That allows someone to buy a property at a cheaper rate and then in a few years time when they have done some savings, they fill in the rest of the house,”

“So now you’ve doubled the size of the house by staying in the same spot so we don’t have stamp duty and we don’t have any of the extra implications of moving house,” said Ian.

Ian’s research into this one particular project concluded that it only took families around four years to save enough money and complete the house.

Is it still possible to get into the Sydney property market?

The soaring Sydney property market is only one example of how home ownership is becoming increasingly unattainable. Given the increased prices across the country, Deborah asks full-time property investor, consultant and real estate advisor Ian Ugarte if it’s still possible to get into the property market and what opportunities exist for those wanting to become homeowners.

“There’s always opportunity, it doesn’t matter what market we’re looking at whether it be property or stocks,” said Ian.

“Right now the Sydney market is just a very very hot market, but it’s no different, as a percentage change, as happened in the past,” said Ian.

“Can you buy into the Sydney right now where the median house price is over $1m? If you’ve got no savings, it’s going to be difficult,” said Ian.

Ian then refers to recent research released about home ownership after the age of 40 and suggests looking at alternative options including buying in a regional location and using the return on investment to rent and live in the place of your choice.

He also encourages thinking of alternative solutions such as the tiny house movement and innovative “no money down deals” or “seller joint ventures” as an option for home ownership.

Why we need a new “Great Australian Dream”.

Ian’s solution is focused on multi-generational and circle of life housing.

“There are policies across the country promoting that those 25-year-olds don’t have to live with their parents because if you create the right product for it, they will move out,” said Ian.


Ian believes that there needs to be a change in public perception when it comes to the development of “new generation boarding houses” as a solution to providing affordable housing.

“As soon as we say boarding house, the automatic perception is that there’s going to be drug dealers,” said Ian.

“It’s not the case, that might have been a 1960’s perception, but we’ve changed and the policy is actually driven to help those 25-year-olds, to help those 50 and 70-year-old people that don’t need a full house,” said Ian.

“The emotion of the community really needs to take context of actually what’s really needed in the community,” says Ian.

Ian then discusses the concept of circle of life living and the benefits to housing affordability and community for multi-generations.

One Man, Five Women….One Bathroom

Ian Ugarte and his family are proof that a large family can live happily in a “small” space. To live congruently with his small housing projects, Ian, his wife Christine and their four daughters moved from a four-story, 400sqm home into a two bedroom, one bathroom 72sqm property.

“What happened in the first couple of weeks, I noticed our interactions had changed. We started to talk to each other, we started to argue more but we had to sort it out because we had to cross paths,” said Ian.

In this final video, Deb asks Ian how he deals with sharing a small space, and one bathroom with five women and if he ever “wins”?

“I think the answer to that is that you don’t win. The answer to that is that everyone can win as long as you know where you stand,” said Ian.

Read The Daily Telegraph Article -Ageing women in financial strife the new face of Australian homelessness

About Ian Ugarte

Ian Ugarte is a full-time property investor, consultant and real estate advisor. He is also Australia’s leading micro apartment, rooming house and boarding house specialist. Ian has spoken to over 50,000 people over the past 5 years in the property development, micro apartment and personal development fields whilst also being a private mentor and coach where he is known for his personal style of challenging peoples’ thought processes and perceptions.

Balance Team

This article was written by the brains trust of Balance . We are a talented team of writers and contributors with real life experience and a passion for finding balance.

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