Bartlett School of Planning Public Lecture Series 2016/17
Professor Nicole Gurran. Urban and Regional Planning
Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning
University of Sydney
In Australia, as in many other nations, there has been significant concern about housing affordability, particularly for younger generations unable to enter home ownership. Increasing demand for housing investment, in part driven by the global financialisation of housing as an asset; combined with declining government subsidy for affordable housing provision, has exacerbated supply pressures in the market. In the face of these pressures, there has been intense focus on the role of the planning system which is perceived to constrain new housing supply. At the local level, the politics of suburban NIMBYSM are thought to prevent diverse and affordable housing, while industry stakeholders in particular argue that urban containment policies constrain the supply of land for housing, pushing up prices. At the same time Asian housing investment (particularly from China) is accelerating distinct and largely unexamined changes in the design and density of housing in Australia’s central cities.
This lecture examines these themes, contrasting political arguments around planning, housing supply, reform, with data on the actual performance of planned housing development in Sydney’s inner city renewal and outer suburban greenfield areas. Despite the narrative of planning as constraint, this analysis highlights a system that is well able to deliver high quality new homes and residential communities in response to rising population growth and house prices. However, without a sizeable affordable housing sector, Australia’s housing system remains unable to serve lower income groups or sustain new production when prices stagnate. Further, while foreign investors appear to offer a crutch for the domestic housing market, they are also vilified by some residents and politicians for exacerbating price pressures and for accelerating the densification of Australia’s central cities. The Australian case highlights how increasing dominance of housing investors, combined with a steady decline of funding to produce affordable homes for lower income groups, can result in a bifurcated housing system whereby property owners – including those from overseas – prosper from rising house prices, but younger generations and lower income workers are burdened by high rents and struggle to meet basic needs.
Nicole Gurran is Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Sydney, where she directs the University’s AHURI (Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute) research centre. She also leads Urban Housing Lab@Sydney, a research ‘incubator’ which fosters cross disciplinary work across housing, transport, governance and urban informatics. Nicole has authored and co-authored numerous publications including Politics, Planning and Housing Supply in Australia, England and Hong Kong, with Nick Gallent and Rebecca Chiu (Routledge, July 2016), Australian Urban Land Use Planning: Principles, Policy, and Practice (2011), and a forthcoming book Urban Planning and the housing market (forthcoming, Palgrave, with Glen Bramley).