July 4, 2014
By Tim Williams, CEO Committee for Sydney
Published: Sydney Morning Herald
If the fire in an illegal student housing compound in Alexandria make us focus on Sydney’s acute housing crisis then good will have come from evil. It is often said in Australia that change doesn’t happen without a burning platform.
We have one now.
The discovery that migrant workers were living in Dickensian housing squalor in the heart of our city must now focus the attention of government, community and media on the housing stress being felt in Sydney. And just in case you think that such stress is confined to migrants who can be conveniently filed under “marginal case: nothing to do with us”, I remind you there are 60,000 Sydneysiders on public/social housing waiting lists , 70 per cent of people under the age of 35 can’t afford home ownership in this city and those on average earnings are being priced out of rented accommodation within an easy commute of Sydney’s CBD.
So mismatched are the supply and demand of any type of housing in Sydney that although housing supply doubled between 2009 and 2014 – it is still only at the 2004 level although our population has gone up 13 per cent since then – house prices went up 14.5 per cent last year alone. Currently housing supply is 30,000 a year in Sydney, which seems to be the peak in this cycle. To clear the backlog we need 40,000 a year at least, year in year out for the next generation.
On current policies and attitudes there is no prospect of this. We are just not building enough of any housing type or tenure. This failure is damaging the prospects both of our own children and our city.
Our offspring are having to live with their parents much longer, not out of inertia or love but because they simply cannot afford to rent, let alone buy. Or they are moving to edge locations with poorer economic opportunities and long commutes. And while all cities are experiencing housing stress, some are doing better. One of the reasons why Melbourne will overtake Sydney as Australia’s biggest city in around 2050 is because we are losing mobile talent in their 30s on the basis of housing affordability. Melbourne is retaining that cohort: some of ours is going to … Melbourne.
Obsessed as many of we home-owners are with house price inflation, madly deemed to be a good thing at dinner parties and in property supplements, we have missed the crisis affecting our young. Home-ownership is becoming something that older Sydneysiders do.
So beloved are we of this special status that in the form of nimbyism many of us are preventing others getting access to the homes they need. Also, via the uniquely generous tax incentives, superannuation benefits and liquidity available to home-owners in Australia, owners are becoming possessors of multiple units, pricing potential first time buyers out into the rental market. This then puts demand pressure on cheaper rented units, social housing and public housing waiting lists.
Increased homelessness and what we saw in Alexandria are at the end of this spectrum of unmet housing need. Something has to be done if we are to have a city with homes for all.
Someone is doing something about it. At the very moment of the Alexandria fire, 60 young leaders from all parts of Sydney were gathered at the inaugural Youth Housing Summit. Brought together by a partnership between the Committee for Sydney, Sydney Alliance and Youth Action, young people from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors met to thrash out answers. Government and our community need to listen to this voice which has been absent from our sometimes un-civic and often selfish dialogue on affordable housing, higher density development and the future of our city.
These impressive young leaders know what is needed from government. How about targets for affordable and key worker housing? Applying first home buyer incentives to shared equity schemes? Replacing stamp duty with a land tax? Allowing public land to be used for sub market rental? Schemes to prevent homelessness in the first place? And for any nimby readers: from all a desire to see a reformed planning system, an embrace of the benefits of a higher density future and a vision of a Greater Sydney with homes for all.
Underpinning this evolving program were two caveats and one ask. One, that engagement processes around city planning be modernised and digitised so that young people can help shape Sydney as never before. Two, that the emerging metro strategy really promotes a more polycentric Sydney and the economic development of the west, to divert some of the current ‘‘close-to-CBD housing” demand.
The ask, politely: that our young premier engages with this key demographic – and becomes a champion for their expansive vision of Sydney.
Read the article online on the SMH website here.