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An easy short-term fix vs an important long-term plan – what do you choose?


Heads Up: The Future of Housing was a very insightful event – organised by the Urban Development Institute of Australia - that some of our staff attended last week. John Daley, the key speaker at the event, CEO of Grattan Institute and writer on Australian public policy, had a lot of very important points to make about policy priorities for everything housing related.

It is one thing to hear an expert’s opinion or a debate about an issue but it is a totally different experience, and a much more important one, to face the reality by analysing some real figures – and John definitely did that. 

You do not have to understand planning policy - the fact that the chance of owning a home for 25-35 year olds has dropped to just 22% is a wake up call to any average Australian citizen.  It is not something that’s hard to understand and definitely not something you would ignore, not worry about or deal with by ‘sticking your head in the sand’.

Historically, this figure has been as high as 62%, no matter what your income.  When you left school, you could be relatively sure you could own a home. But not anymore.

For the high-income earners, the change is not as significant, with only 7% drop as opposed to 40% drop for the low-income earners - making housing the biggest contributor to inequality in Australia over the last 12 years, in terms of income and wealth.

Who are we to blame? What is driving this housing crisis?

Home ownership has always been a political discussion. But are we making informed planning policy decisions that will work in the long term or are our decisions driven purely by emotions (of government and community representatives) and our attachment to the idea of the ‘Australian dream’.  By looking at the real figures, it is the latter.

We want to protect the backyard. We want to protect the character of our city.  It seems like a ‘nice’ thing to do from a historical and cultural point of view; But doing so across large areas and at the expense of density in the middle ring suburbs is a direct contributor to the housing affordability issue. 

We are trying to do the right thing, or so we think, by building new houses (and new suburbs!) and upgrading infrastructure.  However, the costs associated with continued expansion far exceeds those associated with modifying existing infrastructure in terms of public transport, roads, and upgrades to other service areas.

What are the solutions to this so-called “Zoning Effect?”?

If we are to make informed, rational decisions that will benefit us in the long term, then boosting housing density in the middle suburbs, where there is existing infrastructure, is the most obvious solution.  It is a win-win situation, as not only is it a more cost-effective choice for our economy and infrastructure budgets, but it also offers some key community dividends including: improved housing affordability; reduced inequality and homelessness; reduced traffic congestion and improved sustainability, just to name a few.

Yet, boosting housing in the middle ring suburbs happens to be the most ‘difficult’ choice to make, from a political and community perspective.

If you talk to any experienced town planner, they will tell you that preserving history, maintaining our status as an advanced economy, and accommodating our citizens (rather than creating a society of haves and have nots) can go hand in hand.  And many economists would agree.

But what about the actual planning policy decision makers?  Can they tick all of the above boxes? Absolutely!  However, it will require our politicians and decision makers to reflect on the real facts and figures and make informed decisions that will ensure equal opportunity to own a home in our city.