High immigration, urban containment and affordable housing are incompatible goals

By Leith van Onselen

Carolyn Whitzman, a Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Melbourne, has penned a spurious piece attacking the Victorian Government for both failing to achieve affordable housing and failing to reduce urban sprawl. From The Conversation:

No doubt Premier Daniel Andrews inherited several industrial-strength cans of toxic planning waste when Victorian Labor won office in November 2014. This legacy came not only from the Liberals, but from the earlier Bracks-Brumby Labor government.

Under the 2000s Labor government, the fourth new metropolitan strategy in four decades, Melbourne 2030, largely failed to stop sprawl. The main excuse for sprawl – that increased and largely unregulated housing supply would magically enable affordability – had become a sad joke.

As former Labor adviser Joel Deane’s book Catch and Kill shows, inability to respond to basic public concerns about planning and transport was perhaps the most significant factor in Labor’s 2010 election defeat.

If Labor had been ineffective in creating new affordable housing, the Liberals’ planning decisions between 2010 and 2014 were disastrous. Australia’s largest urban renewal site – Fishermans Bend – was drastically up-zoned from Industrial to Capital City (also known as “Anything Goes”). They did this without extracting a cent in added value from landowners towards affordable housing – or any other infrastructure.

…the public housing waiting list now has more than 35,000 names. About 120,000 households receiving Commonwealth Rent Assistance are still unable to afford living where they do. That includes 50,000 households in the lowest income bracket. And another one million new households are expected to move into Victoria within the 30-year timeframe of the infrastructure strategy.

This all means that baby steps will not be enough to prevent rapidly increasing homelessness.

If Professor Whitzman is so worried about urban sprawl, then why is she not lobbying hard against the Big Australia policies being run by the Australian Government, which funnels tens-of-thousands of new migrants into Melbourne every year? You know, the policy that saw Melbourne’s population expand by 832,000 people in the decade to June 2015:

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And the policy that has Melbourne’s population projected to increase by around 1,850 people per week (97,000 people per year) for the next 35 years!

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Obviously, all these extra people will need somewhere to live, be it in detached homes, apartments or townhouses. And this will involve building both up and out, which necessarily involves more ‘evil’ urban sprawl.

It is this mass immigration program that has also over-run Melbourne’s social housing supply, thus forcing many people to sleep rough. From the Herald-Sun in December:

RAPID population growth is worsening Victoria’s social housing crisis amid calls for co-ordinated action to tackle the lack of accommodation…

Not-for-profit group Housing Choices Australia, which provides housing for people struggling to rent private homes, estimated that investment of $600 million a year would be needed up to 2031 to keep pace with the demand for social housing…

Mr Lennon said that Victoria’s growth was “bigger than the Gold Rush era … It’s huge”…

“Over the last 10 years we’ve added more than a million people into Melbourne but at the same time we’ve had no policies … to expand the range of either social housing or steps into affordable housing other than small deposit assistance schemes,” he said.

If Professor Whitzman gets her way on preventing sprawl, all we are likely to get under current migration settings is further appreciation of urban land values, deteriorating housing affordability (despite shrinking home sizes), worsening levels of traffic congestion, and even more homeless. Those lucky enough to be pre-existing land holders will benefit from the rising wealth brought about from higher values, whereas those yet to enter the market (and future generations) will suffer immensely. The overall Melbourne economy would also likely lose further competitiveness as escalating land costs feed into the costs of production.

Expecting to achieve a more liveable and affordable city by restricting the urban footprint at the same time as Melbourne’s population surges towards 8 million and beyond is a contradiction in terms and mutually exclusive.

If Australia is to persist with a mass immigration program, our cities must be allowed to expand to accommodate the growth. It’s that simple.

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  1. The Ford factory land next to Upfield train station must be preserved for a school and uni. Dan is an idiot.

    • It is hard to believe that “most livable” half-truth is still perpetuated!

      The Economist thing is about the most livable city for executives. Yes, rich people, not ordinary people.

      Can someone make a list of the “most livable for the poor” cities.

    • The liveable ratings should be taken with a big boulder of salt, since it only measures how tolerable an expat (who doesn’t live there) finds a particular city. Cost of living, housing relative to income doesn’t come into it.

  2. The good professor can’t just come out and say those things. She would be immediately branded a racist and lose prestige if not her job. On the other hand, it is much safer to virtue-signal about Vancouver, of all places. For housing affordability. I had to re-read the article just to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me.

    This has got to be some kind of elaborate troll.

  3. While the government fiddles with Deck Chairs on the Titanic there is also this to consider.

    I thought it amusing going through the list…

    Top 10 problems for renters

    1. Pests (cockroaches, moths, ants, etc) – CHECK
    2. Doors or windows that don’t close properly – CHECK
    3. Peeling paint or tiles coming off – CHECK
    4. Leaks or flooding – Half Check
    5. Mould that is difficult to remove or reappears – Half Check
    6. No flyscreens on windows – CHECK (Didn’t know I could even ask for this).
    7. It’s difficult to keep property warm – CHECK (No heating system)
    8. It’s difficult to keep property cool – CHECK (No Air Con in 40 degree Sydney weather)
    9. Locks that don’t work – CHECK
    10. A key appliance that doesn’t work – CHECK (Oven could be the from the cold war period).

    • Holyrood St hampton, last rental for us:

      Mould: absolute effort to get the pointing on roof fixed. They just painted over mould. Infested our clothes had to throw heaps out. I had to bust RTA out on whack agent on head with it.

      Idiot landlord suggested I leave heating on all day to reduce humidity


      Same deal with Shocking Stuart in Bentleigh.

      Mind you this is 12 years ago, and just spoke to a mate who is renting in Montmorency and said what you said. Scared to say anything about retaining wall that might fall and kill his kids. Clown landlord put some star pickets in

      What le f$ck is the world coming to

  4. No wonder the Chinese Developers are buying up as much development land as they can get their hands on when you have Academics coming out with reports like this. They know a captured market when they see it.

  5. The population boosters are not subject to the rules of logic and reason.
    The laws of science and nature do not apply
    In their magical world endless growth in a finite space is not only possible but desirable

  6. We can argue with the opinion of an academic but she isn´t setting policy. Successive Australian governments haven´t restricted sprawl, they have simply not invested in any infrastructure to match the population growth, simply to fiddle the accounting numbers. Australia´s infrastructure is a joke, and after a decade mining boom there is nothing to show for, nothing that can help propel the country forward. Those who compare Australia´s worst case scenario with other boom-bust markets like Ireland, Spain or the US, I can only say good luck with that. At least they had something to build back on, whereas the Lucky Country is just rolling in dirt.