Housing affordability in metropolitan Australia

Why are houses today too expensive to buy for the average person and especially young people in our major cities? Are elements such as negative gearing and overseas investors that are often blamed for the rising prices in the media and by politicians the cause of the inflated prices? Or is there something else that has caused the inflation? The short answer is yes. Yes there is. And quite simply it’s supply.

Demand and supply are two elements of the market that are directly linked. If demand is high and supply is low, prices will be higher. If supply is high and demand is low, prices will be lower. The problem in cities like Sydney is that there is a short supply of housing in areas where people actually want to live. Homes that are of a good size (2-3 bedrooms a good size if you are planning a family), in nice neighborhoods, close to schools, medical centres and hospitals, close to public amenities like parks and swimming pools, close to public transport and within a short commute from places of work, which for a city like Sydney is the CBD.

Over past decades new homes have been predominantly built on the outer fringes of the city, which has stretched our cities of Sydney and Melbourne to massive sprawling suburbia. As you head out into this sprawling suburbia land sizes of individual blocks of land get larger, houses get on average larger and are more spread out. The suburbs get larger, amenities are more spread out, hospitals are further away, work is much much further away, everyone requires a car just to do things like go to the shops or take the kids to school, because everything needed for life is so spread out.

This in turn means that the next set of new houses built is pushed even further again from the city centre. The toll of this on people buying their first home, is that they are forced to have a much lower standard of living than those closer to the CBD because they have to spend a lot more time commuting to the city to work in the morning and home again each evening.

People living on the city outskirts will spend several hours a day either in their car or on the train or bus in long commutes.  People living on the fringes often rely on cars to drive everywhere and therefore spend a lot more on petrol for their cars, as well as the other costs involved in car ownership, compared with people in the inner city who often don’t need a car and thus save money on not running a car. Former Liberal Party Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey infamously said in a radio interview in 2014 “The poorest people either don’t have cars or actually don’t drive very far in many cases” (1). In fact it’s the opposite, most “poor people” do drive cars and the costs of running a car helps to keep them poor. “Poor people” who live on the city outskirts tend to drive much further than those who live in the centre, who tend to be wealthier (2).

Houses are generally larger and temperatures in the west of the city are hotter than by the coast because they don’t receive the cool sea breezes, so electricity costs are higher as homes require air conditioning to remain pleasant to live in.

Long commutes are a waste of peoples time, and seriously cuts into peoples recreation time. Time that could be spent with family or friends. High electricity bills and costs of running a car that is used everyday cuts into peoples ability to save money or spend on items to make their life more pleasant.

The short supply of housing in the inner city has pushed house prices up so high they have become unobtainable for people that did not already own a home in Sydney. In the suburb I live in, Marrickville in Sydney’s Inner West about 6 km from the CBD, the median price for a 2 bedroom house is now $1.23 Million (3). The median price means the price in the middle, it’s a bit like the average but a better indication of the middle price people are paying for homes.

In comparison the median price for a 2 bedroom house in Campbelltown, a suburb on the outskirts of Sydney’s western suburbs, is $476 thousand (4). People who live in Campbelltown and work in the city centre will commute for at least 2 hours a day.

So why is a 2 bedroom house where I live so much higher than that of a 2 bedroom house in Campbelltown? The simple answer is demand. There is high demand for houses in suburbs like Marrickville because they are convenient place to live, we have schools, public transport (trains, buses and close connection to light rail), medical care (like GPs, specialists rooms, dentists, radiography services), grocery shops and a shopping centre all within walking distance from homes. There are top hospitals and universities like RPA and The University of Sydney and University of Technology Sydney only 4-5 km away. For people with disabilities there is more access and choice when it comes to disability services. Suburbs closer to the city tend to have more people around and so there is often a greater sense of being in a community than out in the outer suburbs where you can often feel isolated in your street or home. There are cultural and community events in the inner city like weekend markets and theatre, all of which make life more enjoyable in the inner city. Another reason for higher demand in the inner compared to the outer suburbs is that crime rates tend to be lower in the suburbs closer to the city, obviously with a few exceptions.

In my opinion, more focus needs to be on increasing the supply of homes in the CBD and inner suburbs of cities (within 10 km of the CBD), because this is where people want to live based on price data. Yes, people who are already lucky enough to live in the inner suburbs will argue “But there aren’t enough schools! There aren’t enough hospitals! Over-development! I don’t want high rise apartments over looking my house!” . Government has tried to to increase supply and there has been massive backlash in these communities about any new development. This viewpoint to me seems very selfish and short sighted.

My question to those people resisting development and resenting newcomers is, why do you think that you deserve to live in a convenient area, but other people do not? Is it fair that just because you were there first, future generations are forced to live at a poorer standard of living and have to live in an area which is not good for a productive economy because of the high costs on it’s residents, because you were here first? I don’t think that is either fair or good for the economy or society. It ultimately increases inequality in society.

Census data helps governments to determine the number of hospitals and schools built in an area. If more people move to an area, government will see in the Census that the area requires more infrastructure. If zoning laws are changed to allow more housing to be built in the inner suburbs, government can also plan to deliver more hospitals, schools and public transport, for example the new Sydney Metro line going up along the Bankstown line (one of the two main train lines through the Inner West of Sydney) coincides with the opening up of zoning for high rise residential apartments along the Bankstown line corridor.

In the past, and even in the present the most creative and productive areas of cities are not the outer fringes but the more highly developed inner city. If we want to make productive cities we need to make them more livable, which includes increasing the sustainability of our cities by reducing the number of petrol cars on the road, and increasing the happiness of residents by decreasing commuting times and the cost of living.

Reference

1. URL: http://jbh.ministers.treasury.gov.au/transcript/075-2014/ date accessed 12 June 2018.

2. URL: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-08-15/joe-hockey-poor-people-cars-claim-misleading/5671168 date accessed 12 June 2018.

3. URL: https://www.domain.com.au/suburb-profile/marrickville-nsw-2204 date accessed 12 June 2018.

4. URL: https://www.domain.com.au/suburb-profile/campbelltown-nsw-2560 date accessed 12 June 2018.

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