Sydney’s Housing Crisis, the 1970s & Nimbys

“The underlying cause of this worrying trend are basic supply and demand. In the past 5 years, an average of 14,000 new homes a year were built in Sydney, compared with an average of 21,000 in the preceding 5 years, and 28,000 in the 5 years before that.” Nimbys are the haves who want the whole hog SMH 2013

Back in the 1970s, there was a massive battle between property developers and local opposition groups (that included residents and unions). The opposition groups were determined to protect historic 19th century buildings, and to ensure greedy developers didn’t bulldoze Sydney.

I don’t know if you have been to American cities, such as Dallas and Houston, but if you think it is wise to leave town planning to developers, then you need to think again. In these US cities, gone are the historic buildings, gone are the parks , gone are the public spaces … it is ugly and uninspiring.

Fast forward to 2014, and you have a different problem. Sydney’s population is surging, supposedly 60,000 new people move to Sydney every year, and that requires around 30,000 new dwellings, and new dwelling construction is falling woefully short. Everyone knows that infrastructure is at breaking point, and housing with a massive shortfall in supply, is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

You have 2 main needs, the need to house people and the need to transport them around a growing city (between employment, shops, sporting fixtures, beaches, etc). However you have the so called “not-in-my-backyard brigade”, the nimbys, that have other ideas.

These aren’t the Davids of the 1970s, standing up to the big bad developer Goliaths.

Instead these people are simply selfish property owners, they want their cake and they want to eat it. They demand better public transport, however they object to more residents moving into their suburbs. In effect the Nimbys “seek to privatise property gains in their suburbs by restricting supply while demanding the government bear the cost of providing public transport”

Sydneysiders lament that we don’t have a subway system like New York or Singapore. The reason we don’t is obvious: more people have to use these services to pay for them.

In Melbourne, under Kennett at least they came to the realisation that you need to build these urban corridors that sit on the transport infrastructure. This doesn’t mean we knock down the historic buildings, or reduce parklands, it just means you have to come up with a practical solution.

When you read the newspapers and they say Sydney housing prices are about to fall, it completely misses the point. Yes, bad news sells better, but house prices aren’t about to fall. The powers that be, would need to do a lot more than raise interest rates, to see Sydney housing prices fall.

The reality is historic Paddington and Balmain are safe, and Centennial park, Bondi Beach and all the other beautiful spots around Sydney aren’t going anywhere. However, the real bad news, is we are all going to increasingly resigned to an existence of being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, with a 3rd rate public transport, and a younger generation that won’t be able to afford to buy a home.

The only real housing crisis in Sydney, is not that prices are going to fall, but rather that we will spend an increasing amount of our time stuck in traffic. The solution is to build more new dwellings and to build high quality public transport, and to recognise the nimbys are not the 1970s heros.

Leave a Reply