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Australia’s Housing Dilemma: Construction Lags as Population Booms

Australia’s Housing Dilemma: Construction Lags as Population Booms

In a recent address delivered in Hobart, Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Assistant Governor Sarah Hunter highlighted a mounting concern in Australia's housing market: a significant shortage of homes amidst rapidly growing population numbers, largely driven by net overseas migration.

Hunter described a “perfect storm” facing the housing construction sector, one that has set the stage for an extended phase of rising home prices and escalating rental costs. She pointed out that Australia's pace of population growth generally surpasses that of many other advanced economies, thus intensifying the need for housing.

"The growing population strengthens the underlying demand for housing over time. Every individual added to the population needs a residence," Hunter explained.

Currently, housing demand vastly outstrips supply with the estimated necessity ranging between 260,000 to 320,000 homes per year. This figure starkly contrasts with the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council’s (NHSAC) recent report, which projects an underlying demand of about 230,000 homes, later dipping to around 174,000.

The imbalance Hunter referenced has pressured rental markets substantially, leading to lower vacancy rates and inflated rental costs. She added, “[...] the last few years have witnessed unprecedented constraints in construction activities. The shortage of materials, fittings, labor, and shipping disruptions extended build timelines significantly.”

Current dwelling approvals per capita are now at a decade-low due to high costs of building materials and stagnation in new housing projects. Hunter elucidated that many participants either delayed or scrapped their projects over concerns about their projects’ financial returns given existing costs.

Housing construction expenses have sharply increased by nearly 40% since late 2019, driven by pandemic-induced supply chain challenges and fierce competition for construction resources across various sectors.

The rising cost of debt only exacerbates the situation. Greater interest expenses on loans used to finance construction projects slow down the pace at which new houses are completed, prolonging the housing supply shortage.

Consequently, the RBA projects a sustained period of low housing construction, continuing Australia's housing crisis. Hunter indicated that demand pressures will continue to drive rents and home prices upward until there’s a notable surge in new housing supply. However, the outlook appears dim as current new dwelling approvals and viability concerns suggest a slow and delayed response.

One glaring critique is the continued overlooking of an immediate, less costly solution: moderating net overseas migration to levels within the country’s infrastructure and housing capabilities.

The latest projections from the Intergenerational Report paint a daunting picture. By 2062-63, Australia’s population is expected to skyrocket to 40.5 million, a rise of 13.5 million people equating to adding three cities the size of Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane in just under four decades.

Without addressing migration rates, Australia's efforts to counter the housing supply shortfall may never catch up with population growth. Resetting migration to historical annual levels of around 120,000 could be a crucial step in rebalancing this dynamic.

Published:Friday, 17th May 2024
Source: Paige Estritori

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