Canberra and surrounding regions are facing intense housing supply issues with flow-on effects for our economy.
Across the ACT, affordable rentals are rarer than hen’s teeth. While housing costs have declined slightly in recent months, Canberra’s median housing and overall housing prices remain the highest in the country.
The problem is bigger than simply putting a roof over our heads: as the ACT grows rapidly, we’ll all need housing security, whether it’s for teachers, service economy workers, health care workers or the public service.
This week, Region launches Home Truths, an in-depth examination of the problems we’re facing and potential solutions.
We’re looking at issues ranging from build-to-rent and whether abolishing stamp tax has worked to how we can provide vulnerable Canberrans with housing security. As the new territory plan launches, we’ll look at design, urban planning and our vision for the future.
This is not a future problem, it’s in front of us right now and it’s urgent. So what are the facts?
According to the latest ACT population projections, Canberra will grow by 50,000 in the next decade to 482,300 in 2031/32. That’s a faster population growth than Tasmania, which we may well overtake at some point.
Despite recent declines, Canberra has maintained its position as Australia’s most expensive capital city rental market and there’s a critical lack of affordable rental properties in some areas. In 2022, median house prices hit record highs and residential vacancy rates were at record lows.
Greenfield development is not the only answer. The government has focused heavily on increasing urban density, but this faces strenuous opposition from many in the community who want to preserve Canberra’s low-density neighbourhoods.
The government needs to review its housing strategy to allow for a diversity of housing choice to meet the needs of our growing and ageing population. This means having planning controls that allow multi-dwelling medium-density housing in our established suburbs. At present, the rezoning required on a case-by-case basis is costly.
Changes are forecast with the new Territory plan’s district focus, but much of the low-hanging fruit – dual occupancy on RZ1 land – is still impossible. Rezoning faces strenuous opposition from inner suburban residents guarding expansive house blocks.
Part of the problem is the ACT’s unique history and demographics. The city’s suburbs are young by comparison with other capital cities, only entering a major growth phase in the post-war period.
If you’re an ‘old Canberra family’, chances are you’re third generation at most.
In the Territory’s early years, retiring public servants would escape back to their place of origin or down to the coast, but increasingly, there are reasons to stay.
Retirees may not wish to rattle around in their emptied nest, but if they wish to keep their local butcher or pharmacy or GP, with few medium-density, freehold offerings, it isn’t easy to downsize in the community they know and love.
This cohort prefers the security of freehold, which apartments do not offer, while retirement villages do not necessarily meet the needs of all the upcoming retirees.
As retired people stay in place in the inner suburbs, young families must move out to the greenfield developments on Canberra’s fringe to find their homes. Small block sizes in greenfield developments don’t always offer opportunities for families to build or buy their forever homes.
This also means there’s nowhere affordable for workers to live, limiting the ACT’s economic growth. A rapidly expanding tertiary education sector also increases the number of people competing for affordable and accessible housing.
Extended greenfield development puts a greater strain on our transport infrastructure, unlikely to be remedied in the short term by light rail.
Density is also putting pressure on Canberra’s ‘salt and pepper’ model for public housing. Inner city sites reserved for the most vulnerable become increasingly attractive for development, filling the Territory’s perpetually strained coffers.
But our most vulnerable have no wish to move further out where their networks are fragmented, transport is complicated and they face isolation and lack of access to services.
Older women are also increasingly vulnerable to homelessness.
So what should we do?
Will increasing supply solve the affordability crisis? What role does property investment play? Is better design the solution to affordable housing and retaining green spaces?
Watch this space: Region will speak to experts and pundits across the community as we seek solutions together.