With different groups having different needs, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to fixing Australia's housing crisis.
Our population is growing rapidly, while house prices have skyrocketed in recent years, especially in our two greatest population centres of Sydney and Melbourne. In a country that once celebrated a national dream of home ownership, this dream is increasingly out of reach for many. At the same time, rents are increasing despite serious issues for tenants around standards and housing security.
Many solutions have been suggested to ease the pressure on Australia’s housing stock, but there is no single answer to the housing crisis. Australians who need housing are themselves diverse, with different household types and life stages creating different needs, and varying local conditions across our cities and regions.
First of all, we need to work to a plan. Increasingly, diverse medium and high density housing is needed in our cities along transport corridors and near amenities. Incentives to build the right type of homes (including flexible and accessible options), and federal government involvement via City Deals will help, along with simplifying planning assessment for higher density developments.
Then there’s infrastructure – the transport links that get us to work, and the services like schools and hospitals we all need to access. Housing in the right place and at the right density for infrastructure won’t just happen; again, there needs to be a clear plan. Victoria provides a great example with their 30 Year Infrastructure Strategy which aims to increase productivity and guide urban intensification. ASBEC’s Urban Design Protocol also shows how good urban design can improve quality of life and affordability, providing a toolbox to help fit best practice principles to specific places.
Cost is a big factor in the housing crisis, but much of the debate centres on the purchase cost of housing. While the ticket price of houses is important, the costs to heat, cool and light a household, as well as travel to and from work are also very significant in cost of living. Buying a house is something that most people only do occasionally, but property purchasers, and those who rent homes owned by others need to run the dwelling over a long period.
Improved energy efficiency and onsite power generation in new housing stock can help to drive down costs for residents over the life of the dwelling. At the same time, this is one of the fastest and most affordable ways to reduce our carbon emissions and help to meet our international climate obligations. ASBEC’s Low Carbon, High Performance report sets out in detail the benefits and what can be achieved.
Poor energy performance increases the cost to operate buildings and delivers poorer quality of life for those who live, work or learn in them. Right now, there’s no clear and consistent way to comprehend the energy performance of a standard home. In addition to well-formed disclosure schemes, governments need to increase public understanding of the benefits of quality, energy efficient housing. State and territory governments also need to act on the findings of the National Energy Efficient Building Project to improve conformance and compliance with the minimum energy performance standards for new buildings in the National Construction Code.
It’s no good imposing solutions on communities. Imposing high density housing by decree can create animosity, fuelling local opposition and creating expensive last minute objections. Instead, local people need to be engaged in creating housing solutions from the start.
Nightingale Housing provides an example of how this can be done. This Melbourne based not for profit operates to improve the quality of housing, working with architects, project managers and purchasers to improve the affordability, sustainability, and design of new housing developments, with community input seen as a key part of the process.
We can fix the housing crisis and deliver well designed, well located, affordable, sustainable housing for all the different Australians who need it. But it won’t happen unless governments work together with industry, experts and communities on a very broad range of solutions.