Affordable housing – restoring the great Australian dream

August 11th, 2016

A growing population, rising tide of record high property prices, limited land release and broader economic and social change is swamping the great Australian dream of owning a home and even pushing rent payments out of reach for many Australians.

Is this an inevitable and unstoppable tide? It doesn’t have to be – according to some leading experts and creative thinkers.

The encouraging response at our Affordable Housing Think Tank suggests there is a groundswell of innovative ideas – for example flexible design, tenure and financial models – that could make Australian homes more affordable and sustainable.

But how can we make a difference when it has been difficult to achieve this in many states and jurisdictions across the country?

Short of a major collapse of our city real estate markets, it is difficult to see how property prices and rents might be attainable for many Australians, particularly the younger demographic and those in low-mid income ranges.

Recent reports have found:

  • 27,500 people or 13% of the ACT’s workforce, are in housing stress. This includes 43% of people working in retail and 33% of those working in accommodation and food services. [ACT Shelter et al, 2015, “Housing affordability and the labour market in the ACT”, Canberra.]
  • 7% of low income households renting in the ACT are in housing stress (spending more than 30% of gross household income on housing costs) [ABS, Housing Occupancy and Costs 2013-14, cat. no.4310.0 released 16 October 2015]
  • Of 1,497 private rental properties advertised in ACT and Queanbeyan on 2 April 2016 – only 102 of these were affordable and suitable for a family of two adults, both earning the minimum wage, and two children. [Anglicare Australia, Rental Affordability Snapshot 2016, Canberra]

A combination of factors is driving the market and compounding the affordability crisis. Of course our population is growing and ageing, but household and family structures are also changing, which often means we have fewer people in each house (declining occupancy rate). Put this together with the tax breaks and incentives that have existed for multiple property investment and it adds up to a lot of competition for the properties that come on the market.

Since new land and housing supply has not kept up with this level of demand, the asking prices continue to be high. Those with the ability to pay higher prices win out, leaving mid and lower income earners with a tough battle.

If unchanged, this amounts to a fairly bleak outlook for those in or close to ‘housing stress’.

While it’s possible to build more units and release more land, in a tight fiscal environment everyone wants to maximise returns to balance the books. Governments or landholders want the best price for land, while developers, builders, real estate agents and investors all want to maximise profits.

More creative ideas and sustainable and enduring solutions are needed.

At Ginninderra, we have the opportunity to achieve strong affordable housing outcomes.

The Affordable Housing Think Tank was a first step, bringing out a wealth of ideas to inform our approach . Two experts who attended were Dr Louise Crabtree, a Senior Research Fellow at Western Sydney University, and Mark Peacock, Director of Impact Investing at Social Ventures Australia.

“As people’s housing needs change, imagine if their houses had flexibility of design,” said Dr Crabtree. “For Ginninderra, I think we should be asking how it is governed – owned and structured – on an ongoing basis. The site is really quite special as it can set a benchmark and really push innovation in terms of affordability and sustainability for future developments.”

Mr Peacock said, “The Ginninderra site presents so many opportunities. One of the ideas that I’d like to see progress around is what a mixed tenure or mixed development type model might look like – catering to different groups of people at different stages of their lives. How do you bring together a wide range of individuals and families to build a community? Through a variety of housing, different types of stock, and potentially different forms of social infrastructure on the side.”

Affordability is just one of the sustainability issues that confronts our cities and urban environments. Some of the others are water, energy and resource consumption, waste and environmental impacts.

We believe that with a lot of planning, collaboration and co-operation, it is possible to address them all in a sustainable urban development at Ginninderra.


  1. Some of the most significant hits on household budgets are the savage increases in rates. Are there any local government incentives planned to support the dream for ‘sustainable housing’ without ‘housing stress’ (spending more than 30% of gross household income on housing costs)?

    1. You would have to talk with the relevant authorities about rates and government incentives. What we are looking at are initiatives and applications that can minimise some of those other housing costs. For example: this could be finding ways to change the equation for services like energy, water and other resources or investigating other financial, ownership or tenure approaches that make housing more affordable.

      1. Thanks. I thought the relevant authorities were represented in this forum.

  2. Money or Sanity? Houses that are only an arms length away from each other, with only one car park space on tiny blocks with narrow roads and no space for growing trees or vegetation are a sure way to develop heat sinks and unhappy captives to overpriced housing and overpriced housing loans. I hope CSIRO and their developer does not use ‘affordability’ to maximise profits.

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