The difficulty of entering home ownership, the lack of affordable rentals, rising homelessness and the high costs of living are among several housing crises demanding answers.

Planners are acutely focussed on playing our part in meeting housing needs, but deregulating planning for more housing ‘everywhere all at once’ is a solution looking for a problem. While urban planning is not a short-run determinant of housing costs, undermining the role of planning in improving buildings and places carries long term risks to the costs and quality of living as well as the nations’ return on investment in infrastructure and services.

Planning systems are under constant pressure in debates on housing costs. This pressure is based on a misunderstanding of the housing market and ignores planning’s key role to put the right types of housing in the right places.

While there are growing needs, enough housing supply can and has been approved through our planning systems[1]. Over the last three decades, the rate of planning approvals was typically much faster than the rate of Australia’s population growth.[2]

Housing production was sustained during this period by low interest rates and fiscal settings that stoked demand for housing as an investment asset.[3] This, alongside new household formation patterns, contributed to dwelling price increases which are the fundamental incentive for private-sector development activity.[4]

Development activity is now slowing, as explained in NHFIC’s State of the Nation’s Housing report.[5] This corresponds with reduced demand caused by rising interest rates and inflation, softening house prices and therefore dampening development activity. The development sector is also grappling with shortages of materials, equipment, labour and finance. These are the crucial constraints on aggregate housing supply at present.

Planning lies downstream from these short-run determinants of Australia’s housing supply pipeline. Its’ role is broader: to coordinate a long-term pipeline of diverse housing types with the infrastructure required to support them – to put the right housing in the right places. Planning institutions are constantly reforming to perform this role better, faster and with the least regulatory burden.

The NHFIC report also describes the supply of different housing types by location. The distribution of housing is critical to meet our needs for suitable shelter and access to work and services. Planning responds to scenarios for migration, population growth and changing household structure.

Over the long term, the supply of land and allocation of development rights must meet the market demand. But as annual new stock rarely represents more than 1-2% of the total amount of housing, there is little prospect for immediate house purchase price relief[6], particularly if the objective of affordability is left solely to planning tools. In addition, new housing supply does not trickle down evenly into affordable price-points for lower and moderate-income earners[7], [8].

Prices in the rental market are set by even more complex factors. Migration shocks, tourism, WFH, internal migration and reduced share housing post Covid have disrupted rental demand[9]. While in the background an increased proportion of the population are now renters for life.

Planning for housing is therefore much more than a numbers game.

Nevertheless, popular debate remains concentrated on the mirage of increasing aggregate supply through planning “reform” as a cure-all. These discussions  do not differentiate between the several distinct crises which are at play in our housing system:

  1. The deposit crisis – if you are struggling to scrape together a deposit to buy your first home to live in. Twenty years ago, it took half as long to save an average deposit on an average income, and more people now rent for life.
  2. The rental crisis – if you are part of the growing share of people unable to find suitable shelter to rent at a fair proportion of their income. This sends low-moderate income earners to the margins of our cities and starves labour markets of people to perform essential work.
  3. The homelessness crisis – if you can’t afford a basic place to live near your work or family. This cohort are most at risk and have the most acute housing needs.

While facilitating more and better housing is important, each of these crises has its own causes, and requires solutions in addition to aggregate supply delivered by the private sector. Remedies include taxation reform, social and affordable housing investment, low-cost finance and homelessness services.

The tools of planning must also assist. Planning is central to building long term capacity for growth via an orderly pipeline of well-located and serviced  housing stock.  Planning measures might offer approval pathways for a wider variety of housing types in different settings, mandate levy contributions for affordable housing, limit short-term rental accommodation and reserve land for social housing. Positive reform of planning systems is always required to streamline the important work of planners.

Aside from these three crises, there is a fourth major issue in our housing system where the function of planning is clearer.

This could be dubbed the ‘liveability crisis’ – where people’s choices are limited to unsuitable housing in locations without access to transport or public goods and exposed to hazards of heat and flood. The cost of living in these places gets worse as you add new household formation, larger populations and a warming climate.

Solutions which involve rapid housing production at the expense of good planning risk perpetuating the liveability crisis. This is why the National Housing Accord provides funding for enabling infrastructure, as well as a promise of a million ‘well-located’ homes. This recognises that planning is essential to coordinate new housing with transport, services and employment for its residents, and in places capable of adapting to climate change. This cannot occur without robust strategic plans backed by implementation.

Without these ingredients, more housing supply is a response that doesn’t know what problem it is trying to solve.

The planning profession will make a difference by creating great places to live and work – and we will continue to improve planning processes so that this result is assured with the least time and cost.

[1] Spiller M 2023 ‘ Why aren’t we building enough houses?’ Sourceable,

[2] RBA 2022, ‘Housing in the Endemic Phase’,

[3] RBA 2019, ‘A Model of the Australian Housing Market’,

[4] AHURI 2017, ‘Housing supply responsiveness in Australia: distribution, drivers and institutional settings’,

[5] NHFIC 2023, ‘State of the Nation’s Housing Report 2022-23’,

[6] Gurran & Phibbs 2017, ‘Why housing supply shouldn’t be the only policy tool politicians cling to’,

[7] Ong R, Dalton T, Gurran N, Phelps C, Rowley S and Wood G, ‘Housing supply responsiveness in Australia: distribution, drivers and institutional settings’, AHURI, (2017)

[8] Nygaard, C., van den Nouwelant, R., Glackin, S., Martin, C. and Sisson, A. (2022) Filtering as a source of low-income housing in Australia: conceptualisation and testing, AHURI Final Report No. 387, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Limited, Melbourne,, doi: 10.18408/ahuri5124401

[9] Pawson, H., Martin, C., Aminpour, F., Gibb, K., Foye, C. (2022) ‘COVID-19: Housing market impacts and housing policy responses – an international review’ ACOSS/UNSW Sydney Poverty and Inequality Partnership Report No. 16, Sydney

John Brockhoff, National Policy Director, Planning Institute of Australia

Landon Brown, Policy and Research Officer, Planning Institute of Australia