Australia’s Chronic Housing Shortage – Victoria is on the ball!

AUSTRALIA is suffering a chronic housing shortage.

The figure commonly bandied about is that there is a shortfall right now of nearly 200,000 dwellings.

Around the country there are individuals, couples and families struggling to put a roof over their heads. It’s a dire situation that’s set to get worse.

Goldman Sachs estimates in a recent report that in two years’ time the national shortage will be 250,000 dwellings – nine times the size of the next largest housing gap back in the mid-1970s.

A housing shortage is not only hard for those struggling to find a place to live, it also drives up property prices for everyone else and generally makes housing less affordable.

But buried in one of the documents littering my desk is a paragraph from an authoritative BIS Shrapnel building industry prospects paper that states the following:

”For 2009-10 dwelling commencements [in Victoria] are estimated to have lifted 27 per cent to 53,350 starts.” In other words, 53,000 new houses were started last year.

According to the report this is a record level of housing construction for the state and is above the estimated annual underlying demand for new dwellings.

So what’s going on? If, as it turns out, Victoria is building more homes than needed, why does the state still have a housing supply problem?

The answer lies in the fact that it doesn’t have a problem, or at least it doesn’t have as much of a problem as its northern neighbours New South Wales and Queensland.

Between 2006 and 2010 Victoria, like the rest of the nation, experienced rapid population growth that resulted in pent-up demand for housing.

At the time new home construction couldn’t keep up and the state was left with a housing shortfall last year estimated at 42,000 dwellings. It turned on the building-and-land-supply tap and in three years that figure is expected to drop to 29,000 dwellings.

”As of this year, we’ve had a very strong upturn and we’re starting to build more than is required but we also have that pent-up demand from the last three years to work through,” says BIS Shrapnel senior analyst Angie Zigomanis.

While a deficit of 42,000 dwellings sounds like a lot, Sydney has an even bigger problem.

Figures released last week show Victoria continues to be the powerhouse behind new home construction. NSW, by contrast, dragged its feet with a severe drop in new homes sales.

This year BIS Shrapnel estimates there will be a shortfall in NSW of 99,000 dwellings.

Unlike Victoria, NSW is hampered by the slow release of land for building, geographic limitations to growth on the outskirts of Sydney, higher levies on developers and planning hold-ups.

”It’s a combination of developer levies that have been much higher than elsewhere, but also the geography of Sydney makes it more difficult to bring new supply on stream than in Melbourne,” says Macquarie Bank senior economist Brian Redican.

It’s a situation exacerbated by higher interest rates.

”We’ve seen lending for new construction fall over the previous 12 months and now that’s flowing through into people getting fewer approvals from their local governments to build new houses,” Redican says.

Last year new dwelling starts in NSW were at their lowest level for 50 years – an unprecedented situation for a state facing such an enormous and daunting housing shortfall.

”In NSW the cost of new land has been so much higher than in Victoria that it has been much less profitable for developers to bring new supply into the market,” Redican says.

In Sydney the cost of developing a greenfield site ($560,000) is more expensive than developing an infill site ($550,000). In other cities, it’s the reverse and at least a quarter less expensive, Goldman Sachs estimates.

Because work has started on so few new dwellings, next year’s estimate puts the housing shortfall at 111,000 and rising.

For the first time this year, an almost unprecedented event contributed to Melbourne’s population jump – while 4280 Victorians moved north, even more Queenslanders (4471) moved south.

Those that brave the southern chill will have an easier job finding a house in Melbourne.

Queensland had an estimated shortfall of 38,000 dwellings this year. That deficit is likely to rise to 56,000 by 2012.

So what will help? More first home buyer grants? Not according to Goldman Sachs.

”The most illogical policy prescription over the past decade has been the preference by federal and state governments to provide first home buyer grants as a way of encouraging new housing supply.”

The major challenge facing Australia is an acute lack of supply, not a shortage of demand.

”Only 16 per cent of first home buyers buy a newly constructed house. The vast majority use the first home buyers grant to bid up the price of the existing housing stock.”

If you are going to fix the problem, you have to start at the source. Sydney, with a little help from Queensland, is almost single-handedly responsible for the entire nation’s housing shortage.




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