A Quarter Floor in a High-Rise Block?
The Dreadful State of Australian Housing Affordability
By Wendell Cox
A new report by Bankwest shows that housing affordability for the nation’s “key workers” (nurses, teachers, police officers, fire fighters and ambulance operators) has become worse than desperate. The Bankwest report, BankWest_Key_Worker_Housing_Affordability/index.aspx> Key Worker Housing Affordability Report compares 2007 median house prices in the 8 capital cities to average annual earnings, using a standard that requires house prices to be 5 times or less the average (mean) annual earnings for each of the key worker classifications.
Rampant Unaffordability: In seven of the eight capital cities, the median house price was unaffordable for all of the five key worker classifications. The situation was only marginally better in the remaining capital city, Adelaide, where housing was deemed to be affordable for police officers. But even that sliver of light may have been extinguished, since house prices have rose so much Adelaide between 2007 and 2008 that police officer affordability may be a thing of the past.
Unaffordability by Local Government Area: The lack of housing affordability is pervasive down to the local government area (LGA) level.
• In Sydney, 100% of LGAs are unaffordable to nurses, teachers, fire fighters and ambulance operators. Things are not much better for police officers, with 93 percent of LGAs unaffordable.
• In Melbourne, 100% of LGAs are unaffordable to nurses. Other key workers face unaffordability in 71% and 84% of LGAs.
• In Brisbane, 100% of LGAs are unaffordable to nurses and ambulance operators. From 67% to 89% of LGAs are unaffordable to other key workers.
• In Adelaide, between 63% and 89% of LGAs are unaffordable to key workers.
• In Perth, 100% of LGAs are unaffordable to nurses, teachers, fire fighters and ambulance operators. For police officers, 93% of LGAs being unaffordable.
• In Hobart, between 50% and 83% of LGAs are unaffordable to key workers.
• In Darwin, 100% of LGAs are unaffordable to fire fighters and ambulance operators. Other key workers face unaffordability in 67% of LGAs.
• In Canberra, all LGAs are unaffordable to all key worker categories.
In all of the capital cities combined, housing is unaffordable for nurses in 96% of LGAs, for teachers and firefighters in 91% of LGAs, for ambulande operators in 90% of LGAs and for police officers in 81% of LGAs.
Unnecessary House Price Escalation: It was not always this way. Bankwest reports that since 2002, median house prices have increased at double the rate of key worker average earnings. Similar trends have been shown and concerns raised in our Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, now in its fifth year of publication (Reference: http://www.demographia.com/dhi.pdf).
The problem, which has been increasingly acknowledged by economists in Australia and abroad is the stingy land use policies that have driven residential land prices through the roof in virtually all of the capital cities. At least one government understands. In its welcome relaxation of these destructive regulations, the Victorian government cites housing affordability as a principal justification. Often going under the name of “urban consolidation,” intention of these policies is to stop the expansion further into the plentiful land of the nation and force people to live closer to the urban cores --- this in a nation with less than 0.3 percent of its land area under urban development.
Other Workers are Key Too: The problem goes well beyond key workers. While the nation needs key workers living closeby to provide quality service to life, limb and mind, their salaries depend on the taxes and fees paid by other workers, many of whom have even lower earnings. Thus, as devastating as the affordability problem is to key workers, the crisis goes much deeper. An Australian household purchasing a house will pay, on average 70 percent more today relative to income than in the early 1990s. Virtually all of the difference can be attributed to the regulations that seek to remake cities to match a radical vision that is already well on its way to the Hong Kongization of some Sydney neighborhoods.
Giving Up on the Great Australian Dream? The Bankwest report notes that key worker housing affordabilty is somewhat less dire with respect to units. Police officers cannot afford units in 41% of capital city LGAs, while other key workers cannot afford units in from 59% to 78% of LGAs.
That is precious little comfort. The Great Australian Dream is about a house on a quarter acre block, not a quarter floor in a high-rise block.