By Lauren O’Connor
A panel of housing and social sector experts have called on all levels of government to address a housing affordability “crisis” in Sydney.
On March 12 the City of Sydney invited eight guests to discuss the social and economic impacts of falling rates of home ownership.
John Daley of political policy think-tank The Grattan Institute said Sydney was separated into two “cities” with a divide in home ownership between rich and poor.
“Our cities are changing as we move from being a manufacturing economy to being a service economy. If you go back 30-40 years there was very little divide essentially between people on high incomes and people on low incomes,” he said.
The forum at Town Hall included panellists from property developer Mirvac, Westpac, experts on urban planning and representatives from youth and social housing groups.
The event filled to capacity and highlighted a lack of appropriate housing within 10 kilometres of Sydney’s CBD. Mr Daley was concerned young people would be waiting an average of 40 years to inherit property and be increasingly priced out of the housing market.
“Home ownership among Sydney’s younger generation has fallen over the past two decades, from 60 percent in 1981 to 48 percent in 2011… it’s going to wind up pretty close to zero,” Mr Daley said.
“It’s a real problem, it’s not just an anecdotal thing, we are seeing an increasing generation locked out.”
Eamon Waterford, policy director of Youth Action, said he and his fiancé could not afford to buy a house in Sydney’s inner west without financial help.
“If you want to buy a house before you’re 30 you have to buy a house two hours away from your job if you work in the city, or have rich parents,” Mr Waterford said.
“The housing affordability crisis affects Australia’s youth more than any other age group. Even if you’re making rent it’s affecting your standard of living.”
Dr Cassandra Goldie from the Australian Council of Social Services called on the federal government to acknowledge the ‘crushing’ way renting, long commutes and overcrowding affect the population.
“The deprivation is very extreme and sometimes it’s very hard for the other world to connect with that reality,” she said. “Part of the problem [is that] there is not a good public understanding that the government actually has a big role in this area.”
“If we’ve got a federal government that doesn’t see it as having a responsibility at all, then we’ve got to make it clear that they are absolutely front and centre of this,” Dr Goldie said.
Statistics provided by the City of Sydney show rent prices have tripled compared to 23 years ago and buying a house or apartment is nearly five times more expensive.
The panel discussed the need for leadership on all levels of government to address the issue. Toby Long, representative for Mirvac said new property developments were made difficult by council requirements.
“They don’t allow you to do certain things that would actually allow you to build more houses on one block and it is the education of the public that if we do want affordability in the middle and outer rings then you have to accept that there is going to be a ‘six-pack’ next door,” Mr Long said.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore said Sydney’s housing crisis had reached a point where “urgent action is needed”, but she told the panel it was the state government’s responsibility to address the issue, not council’s.
“It’s really important that we are having this conversation at this time, with a state election coming up in a couple of weeks,” she said.
“Local governments are a creature of this state, we operate under a state act, so if there’s a state policy about affordable housing and community, that’s what every council will do,” the Lord Mayor said.
“We’re doing very progressive things at the City but we’re already going beyond.”