Andrea Sharam to research “Uberisation” of housing at new RMIT gig

Housing academic Dr Andrea Sharam has been appointed senior lecturer at the School of Property, Construction and Project Management at RMIT in Melbourne, following a six-year position as research fellow with the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University of Technology.

Dr Sharam’s recent research introduced the term “deliberative development”, whereby occupants are involved in the design of their housing to help increase competition, expand access and promote responsiveness to consumer needs and preferences. This style of development has been used in projects like Nightingale.

While the position at Swinburne was research only, the new tenured position at RMIT will involve research as well as lecturing property, construction and project management students, a field Dr Sharam told The Fifth Estate typically lacks critical analysis.

“It is a very exciting time for property education,” she said. “It’s actually an under-researched field.”

Regarding further research, Dr Sharam has a new research grant from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) focusing on disruption in the property space. Dr Sharam will be looking at the “uberisation” of housing, or in other words looking at how a “two-sided matching market” could be employed in the property sector.

“It’s a conceptual and theoretical look at how market design could change various aspects of housing,” she said.

A two-sided matching market – employed by e-commerce companies like Airbnb and Uber – aggregates actors on both side of the market to match supply and demand more efficiently.

While these systems are being employed successfully in many sectors, she said property has been “pretty slow off the mark”.

Housing affordability is key to Dr Sharam’s research, and she said while there had been increased talk on the topic over the past couple of months, it has been a key policy issue for a number of years without much success.

“Governments are finding it extremely difficult,” she said. “They have a conceptual toolbox [of solutions], but are just playing with same tools over and over again. They need to take stock and think really hard about what the issues are.”

She said it seemed governments were beholden to “entrenched interests” in housing, leading to “the same old policy solutions put up”.

She said recent calls for relaxation of urban growth boundaries reflected the powerful lobby groups in the sector. She said these housing bodies also often made calls for less taxation and less regulation, including removing restrictions on density, despite research showing these things could be detrimental.

“[The lobby groups] don’t have much critical analysis themselves. They see themselves as pro-business big bodies, but are not really thinking hard about what really are the best solutions for their members.”

One example is in regards to calls for to remove height and density limits in infill areas. However this, Dr Sharam said, could add inflationary pressure to land prices.

“If you have members who are small developers, as the value of land rises, fewer and fewer can afford to purchase land to develop, making it far harder to get development finance. For inner urban land you have to be a pretty big outfit to get into that market.”

It was difficult, Dr Sharam said, to turn good research into government policy.

She said all the major academic housing researchers had recently presented together to the government on housing affordability.

“The things they are saying are largely not being listened to.

“It’s really about governments themselves understanding [the problem], rather than having knee-jerk reactions or pandering to vested interests.”

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