Is it Time to Ditch the Great Australian Housing Dream? 1

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Wednesday, December 9th, 2015
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Australian millenials may soon need to abandon the long-cherished dream of occupying their own detached, single-family dwelling on a quarter acre block.

Profound changes to urban environments and economic conditions are sadly making such residential property aspirations a thing of the past

According to Craig Yelland, director of Plus Architecture, projected growth in Australia’s city-dwelling populations will make detached suburban homes a redundant option for most urbanites, and an increased number of higher density residential areas a necessity for the nation’s major cities.

“There are so many reasons why higher density is beneficial for Australian cities,” he said. “When we look at the other option of carving up farms into housing, and the cost to the state of not only the carbon footprint but additional infrastructure, as well as the cost to society of longer commute times and being away from the family, it’s just horrible. And all just for that great Australian dream of owning a bit of dirt.”

In addition to the broader macro-benefits of reduced environmental impact and improved affordability due to expansion in available housing stock, Yelland emphasises the immediate advantages for urbanites themselves of residing in apartments as opposed to standalone homes.

“To all those people out there that think you need a quarter acre block with a picket fence to live life, please come out of the dark ages. Apartments are better than houses…I think that houses are a ridiculous concept on  many fronts,” he said.

“The lifestyle benefits of living in an apartment compared to living in a house are massive. There are the benefits of higher security, lower maintenance, no mowing of lawns and no fixing of squeaky gates, so you actually have more time to go and do sports or spend time with the kids.

“There’s also travel time – instead of a 40 minute commute on average if you live in a house, you can be as little as 10 minutes away from work if you live in an apartment.”

The increased distance and commuting times created by sprawling suburbs, as well as associated impacts on physical as well as mental health, serve as one of the main reasons for Yelland’s vehement opposition to the further proliferation of standalone homes in Australian cities.

“Houses equal more suburbs equal more roads. More roads equal more traffic,” he said. “Your lifestyle in a house equals living in a car. You drive to everything, eat in a lot and exercise less. Obesity and depression increase with the distance from the city.”

While the dream of owning a standalone home has long been an intrinsic part of Australia’s popular consciousness, Yelland notes that a profound shift is already apparent in the preference of younger participants on the housing market, and regulators should make the effort to keep pace with such changes.

“Before the apartment boom of 2001 you never heard a young person say, ‘I’m saving up to buy an apartment.’ By the next boom in 2007 young people started to aspire to own an apartment. Now in 2015 it is commonplace to hear people aspiring and preferring to own apartments,” he said.

“I strongly believe that the market should decide what we choose to live in. The ridiculous rules that NSW has prohibiting small apartments means that apartment living is reserved for the rich. What about the rest of us? [We shouldn’t] follow Sydney design standards and make our apartments unaffordable.”

Yelland also believes apartments are an economically preferable option, pointing to the disingenuous nature of comparisons between the residential property options that aren’t based on the same location.

“You get much better value for money with apartments, and when you make comparisons it should be on a suburb by suburb basis,” he said.

“You can’t compare a $400,000 one-bedroom small apartment designed for a single professional to a $400,000 house in Merang which is three bedrooms on a quarter acre block. You need to compare things on the basis of proximity to amenities and employment.

“The reality is that you can buy a 1970s crappy three-bed big brick veneer in an outer suburb for the same money as a 50 square metre apartment in a cool building in a great area. People are making the choice to buy the apartment. It’s already happening. I just wish it happened more.”

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  1. Paul Jolley

    With full respect, notwithstanding the general need for Australians to change how we view the concept of density, Yelland's views as presented above do seem to be extremely narrow.

    Whilst density has its advantages, different people will prefer different housing types. Whilst maintenance is not for everyone, many people do enjoy having their own private backyard in which children can play football or cricket or adults can spend time gardening. Nor is it the case that everyone wants to live closer in to town – many people who enjoy nature, for example, might be better suited to housing closer to the outer suburbs. Besides, not everyone works in the city. Those who work in the outer suburbs would obviously be well suited to living where they work.

    Yes, we need a conversation about density. No, narrow minded views such as that expressed above do not help.