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Census reveals the consequences of a growing housing affordability crisis

The 2016 Census has revealed more people are renting, mortgage debt is growing and the number of large households is increasing, as housing affordability crises grip multiple cities across the country.

Housing owned outright fell from 41.4 per cent in 1991 to 31 per cent in 2016. Homes with mortgages, meanwhile, rose to 34.5 per cent in 2016 from 27.5 per cent in 1991, and renting went from 26.9 per cent in 1991 to 30.9 per cent in 2016.

Western Sydney University’s Dr Louise Crabtree said the Census figures were consistent with concerns that home ownership was becoming unaffordable.

Western Sydney University’s Dr Emma Power added that Australians were also paying higher rents, with median household rent increasing at a greater rate than median personal income.

“This has greatest impact on single person households and single-parent and couple households where there is only one income. The median single income household would need to spend more than 50 per cent of their household income to pay the median rent,” Dr Power said.

“This is unaffordable by any measure and is indicative of the housing stress facing Australian renters.”

Affordability affecting household size

Overall household sizes have decreased, with the average number of people living in each household 2.6 people, decreasing from 2.8 people in 1991.

Lone person households also increased from 20 per cent in 1991 to 24.4 per cent in 2016.

“The ongoing growth of lone person households and corresponding reduction in household size is also worth noting – as this indicates that the types of housing that might be appropriate or desirable in Australia are changing,” Dr Crabtree said.

However, the number of households with six or more people has grown by 20 per cent since 2011, the proportion of multi-family households has more than doubled and in Sydney overall household size has grown.

The University of Sydney’s Professor Peter Phibbs puts these changes down to housing affordability pressures.

“Australia’s housing affordability problem is not only having an impact on the number of people renting versus buying, but is also driving up household sizes, especially in Sydney where average household size has continued to climb,” he said.

“This means that while Sydney’s population is continuing to grow, affordability pressures mean that the number of dwellings to service this increased population is struggling to keep up, as more people are living in each dwelling.”

Need for public transport

Australian capital cities are seeing the majority of population growth, increasing by 10.5 per cent compared with the national average of 5.7 per cent.

City growth has seen a swing towards apartment living, increasing in Sydney from 25.8 per cent in 2011 to 28.1 per cent in 2016.

Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson said increasing populations would lead to increased densities, and major cities needed to plan accordingly.

“The swing to apartment living will inevitably lead to greater densities in cities like Sydney and these will be mainly in apartment buildings located around railway stations,” Mr Johnson said.

“Just like the impressive metro and subway rail systems of New York and London, Sydney and Melbourne will need to develop sophisticated metro rail networks to underpin where future densities are located.”

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