Opinion: Sydney housing crisis pushing essential service workers to outer areas

Sydney, we need to talk. 

While some of us are living the Great Australian Dream of home ownership, many more are being pushed out of our city to the outer edges and beyond. These people are our younger essential service workers – teachers, police and nurses, to name a few. 

In the words of Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?”

Some neighbourhoods in Sydney have been punching above their weight in trying to solve the housing affordability crisis and the reality is there is an unequal distribution of new housing in many areas where there is strong jobs growth. 

Parramatta, Blacktown and Liverpool seem to be doing almost all of the heavy lifting while the inner west and eastern suburbs and parts of the North Shore seem to favour existing residents over welcoming new ones. 

There needs to be a number of different strategies to solve this problem. 

Perhaps YIMBYs (Yes In My Back Yard) is one answer. This is a grassroots movement that aims to make housing more affordable for the community. 

Take the California YIMBY movement – this group says it attempts to ‘train the next generations of housing leaders to run local campaigns’ to end the state’s housing shortage. YIMBY groups are bringing together housing developers and activists to change the system and open up supply. 

Austin, Toronto and New York have also seen the rise of this movement. 

Back home, Victoria, Queensland and NSW are experiencing YIMBYs but to a smaller extent. 

Bringing together homebuilders and activists can also bring other benefits. If the conditions are right builders can contribute to subsidised rental housing in their projects but only if the projects stack up financially. 

We always seems to propose these schemes at the end of the residential property booms when values are stagnating. 

There is a range of things we could be doing to unlock the housing market for young people. Some councils want to impose large minimum apartment sizes because they are apparently pro-family. This has the effect of reducing both choice and affordability. 

Subdivision rules are often used as a defacto tool for blocking development. In many areas dual occupancies are technically allowed under the planning rules – but only if the property title remains in single ownership. 

In other areas, studio apartments can be built in groups but only if they cannot be sold. It makes it harder for these projects to get off the ground when they cannot be financed and the real losers of these lost opportunities are essential workers who are forced to the fringes of our city. 
Smaller apartments could be the difference for a young person to break into the property market in metropolitan centres such as the inner Sydney CBD and Parramatta. 

If we want essential workers to live near where they work and give our kids the opportunity we had at their age to own their own home, we must change our attitudes to support affordable housing in our communities. 

This appeared in the Daily Telegraph, 6 February, 2018. 

David Borger

Western Sydney Director

David led the Sydney Business Chamber campaign in support of the Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek including establishing the Western Sydney Airport Alliance. He has collaborated with chief executive officers, managing partners and Vice Chancellors to support campaigns like the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta, the Westmead and Liverpool Innovation Districts, Sydney Olympic Park, Parramatta Light Rail and West Metro. Prior to this, he served as the Minister for Roads, Minister assisting the Minister for Transport and Roads in the NSW Labor Government, Minister for Housing, as well as Minister for Western Sydney.