Housing has recently been in the spotlight in the wake of Albanese’s $10 billion housing fund announcement. Critics, including ACT senator David Pocock, say the plan for $500m in annual investments is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed.
But there are other supply-side solutions than throwing money at the problem. One is to address the balkanism of the planning system that underlies our obsession with freestanding homes.
Currently, re-zoning decisions and construction plans have to be referred to and approved by local councils. Their most influential constituents are of course those who have been able to buy a home and put down roots in the area.
The saga of Lords Road in Leichhardt (Sydney’s inner west) is a prime example. The site owner of an old warehouse applied in 2014 to convert the 10,000 square-metre site to medium-density apartments. The site is a block from a dog park and a light-rail station that connects to the CBD.
The proposal received over 1,000 objections from locals, citing height, traffic and “loss of industrial land.” Nine years later, the Greens- and Labor-dominated council has still not approved the proposal.
A similar development proposal in Lilyfield received the same avalanche of complaints, with one local writing, “I did not move to Lilyfield to be surrounded by apartments, I could have moved to Pyrmont if I wanted to feel like I’m in Hong Kong.” This was in opposition to a six-storey apartment complex, more Amsterdam than Hong Kong.
But the argument makes sense. When a local resident’s home is a potentially multi-million dollar asset in which the bulk of their net wealth is held, why would they support large-scale expansion of housing stock in their area? This is the conflict of interest at the root of housing supply. The logic is more recognisable in elite suburbs like Mosman – which averages just 33 new homes per year – but it applies everywhere.
And it has become a major trap for Labor and Greens councillors. In their desire to be broadly against development and for environment and community, they end up neglecting the interests of their staunchest supporters (Gen Y and Gen Z) in the name of a false environmentalism.
Groups like Save Little Bay in SE Sydney are opposing Meriton building in their suburb. So instead they support rezoning rural lands on the metropolitan fringes rather than having more people sharing their own beautiful neighbourhoods.
As home ownership rates fall to new record lows every year and rental prices reach record highs, it’s time to start treating housing development as a matter of state and national interest.
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