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Housing crisis - More sprawl please

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

For several decades my engineer grandfather Fred was in charge of Perth's sewerage and drainage. He was deputy chief engineer at the Metropolitan Water Board with direct responsibility for sewerage and drainage. Most work of the department was for new subdivisions. Our Sunday drives were visits to sites of emerging subdivisions or big public works. We didn't mind, we were out in the bush. Then, Como was bush.

Until recent times, Australia has housed our population and immigrants in housing subdivisions. In subdivisions people lived in a sensible house with some yard. The house was built with eaves and verandas to address Australia's extreme climates particularly heat; and the yards were cooling lawns.

In the news today, West Australians are spending as much as 78% of their income on rent. People earning reasonable incomes are homeless, sleeping in cars. The State and Federal Governments regularly announce initiatives. Whether or not they will work, their benefits are ages away. We don't have that time: the crisis is daily and dire and widespread.

It has has three causes. Firstly, immigration. I'm not against immigration - all save indigenous Australians are immigrants - but when you invite more people to a party you must buy more grog and food and set up more gazebo's. Our governments have sought to solve the skills shortage and maintain the GDP by attracting skilled immigrants without asking: Where will they live?

The second cause of the housing crisis is that people who otherwise would have bought, must rent. They can't buy because prices are excessive; prices are excessive because of the reckless low interest rate regime now ending and the remorseless messaging from the media and the real estate industry that rising prices are an improvement in the market.

Which brings me to Fred. The third cause of the housing crisis is lack of infrastructure for subdivisions. Governments over time have scaled back on building infrastructure for subdivisions. The conventional wisdow is: higher density is good, sprawl is bad. Sprawl is demonised because it needs big government investment in infrastructure. So what? Get on with it.

In wartime the Government can and must play a bigger part. After the Second World War the British Government set a target of building one million houses. They achieved it. Accommodation is a basic human right; people are struggling to find homes; these are wartime conditions. Government must build subdivision infrastructure and, until the crisis eases, build houses.


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