YIMBY solution won’t improve Australian housing affordability


The “Yes in My Backyard” (YIMBY) movement contends that easing planning regulations and saturating Australia’s cities with high-rise apartments can restore housing affordability.

Their argument fails when you consider that Sydney’s and Melbourne’s dwelling compositions have changed rapidly this century amid the substantial increase in unit & apartment construction:

Dwelling approvals: Sydney vs Melbourne

As noted by RMIT’s David Hayward last week about Melbourne:


“Over the 30 years to 2021, Melbourne’s 15 main inner and middle-ring municipalities increased housing by 55%, or 318,000 dwellings. Of these, 90% were of medium and higher densities, according to my analysis of census data”.

“Detached housing in these areas has fallen from 66% to barely 50% over that period. If the government’s targets were met, detached houses would be under 33%”.

Melbourne dwelling composition

The Victorian government has set a target to build 2 million new homes by 2051 to keep pace with the state’s rapid population growth, which is predicted to swell to 11.2 million people by 2056, with Melbourne ballooning to 9.0 million:

Victorian population growth

Such an extreme construction level would transform Melbourne into a high-rise city.

Melbourne had 2,057,482 dwellings in the 2021 Census, while Victoria had 2,805,661 dwellings.

An increase of 2 million dwellings represents a 71% increase in the number of dwellings in only 30 years—an extraordinary change in a short period.


Sydney is also expected to transform into a high-rise city, with Urban Taskforce projections showing that only 25% of homes would be detached houses by 2057, with apartments (50%) and townhouses (25%) dominating the urban form:

Sydney dwelling composition

Will a high-rise future deliver affordable housing to the residents of Sydney and Melbourne? Absolutely not. It hasn’t done so over the past 20 years.


The absurdity was illustrated on Monday when The Age reported that “the Planning Minister, Sonya Kilkenny, had approved the $1.57 billion Vicinity Centres project – which will change the shape of Box Hill with towers up to 50 storeys and a total of 1700 apartments”.

Box Hill planned development

So, that is $1.57 billion to build 1,700 apartments, which equates to $923,529 per apartment. In what world is that affordable?


The Labor government’s 2,000,000 new homes target over the next 28 years would require another 1,176 projects of this sort. That is, 8,235 towers in total, ranging in height from 19 to 49 levels, at a development cost of around $1.85 trillion dollars!

Few Melburnians or Sydneysiders want their city’s populations to balloon in size to 9 million and 8 million people, respectively, mid-century, and to transform into Asian-style high-rises.

Residents of both cities are already struggling under the weight of 20 years of extreme population growth.

About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.