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Sydney lurches to housing affordability disaster

By John Muscat - posted Tuesday, 6 December 2016

In Sydney’s case, the authorities aren’t just failing to supply a buffer of land above population and demand projections. Worse, their targets and greenfield-infill ratio are shaped by bureaucratic value judgements on where people should settle, rather than land markets.

On top of this, proximity to amenities is another housing attribute which capitalises into prices. Advocates of TOD demand more housing near public transport hubs, or, better coordination of land use and transport infrastructure, as they put it. But evidence from the US suggests that land values within 800 metres of mass transit can rise by up to 120 per cent. Adjacent property prices can rise by 32 to 45 per cent. 

Opponents of fringe development object that the housing will be too far from jobs, assuming monocentricity or concentration of jobs in the urban core. Yet the Long-Term Public Transport Plan For Sydney found that of the jobs supposedly in centres, 37.1 per cent were actually spread over 33 dispersed locations. Only the CBD with 12 per cent and South Sydney with 2.5 per cent had more than two per cent of the total. The other 62.9 per cent were scattered randomly.  


Investigating whether outer suburban workers have extra long commutes, in fact, Alan Davies concluded average commute times don’t vary a lot geographically within large Australian cities. Peter Gordon of the University of Southern California has researched commute times in American cities over decades, reporting remarkable stability of travel times across inner and outer metropolitan sectors despite population growth. Many individual households and firms ‘co-locate’ to reduce commute time, he explains, and this spatial adjustment [is easier] in dispersed metropolitan space.

One advocate of inner-ring densification denied that it relies on price-hiking growth boundaries, claiming that relaxing floor space regulations in an Alonso-type model will give the same [densification] effect, with infinite city size. However, the Alonso model incorporates an artificial assumption of monocentricity. Higher paying professional jobs may locate closer to the core, on average, than lower paying jobs. But it’s lower paid workers who are most in need of cheaper housing. Recently, Grattan Institute’s John Daley wrote “it’s important that new supply is focused on the inner and middle rings – 2-20km out of the CBD – of our large cities … new developments on the edge tend to be a long way from where additional jobs are being created”.

In other words, he propagates the myth of monocentricity and implies that worker-trader jobs don’t count.

NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian has announced that residential construction activity in NSW has hit an all-time high. But if that construction is funneled into increasingly expensive sites, Sydneysiders face a recurring home ownership nightmare.

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This is an edited version of an article first published on The New City.

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About the Author

John Muscat is a co-editor, along with Jeremy Gilling, of The New City, a web journal of urban and political affairs.

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