Guest blogger: Emeritus Professor Peter Spearritt, curator of Freedom Then, Freedom Now.
Housing affordability is one of the great issues facing Australia today, with more and more households unable to afford to buy a home. There are many contributing factors to house prices. In the Freedom Then, Freedom Now exhibition we look at land subdivisions in the 1950s, when even relatively low income households could afford to buy a block of land, usually on the edges of the cities. Blocks could be cheap, especially in those new subdivisions which did not have sewage or made roads. Households paid for that later when the services finally arrived. Owner building was common in that era, and people often built just a couple of rooms at a time.
Today, most people in their 20s and 30s find it difficult to save enough for a deposit on a block of land, let alone a house and land package, or even an apartment. The inner cities of our capital cities have become more ‘hip’, and have more of the entertainment and lifestyle options desired by younger people. Fewer households seem prepared to move to the urban fringe, where most new estates are car-based, and reliable public transport is thin on the ground. State governments sometime waive stamp duty for first home owners and the federal government sometimes provides assistance to first home owners, but increases in house prices have recently far outstripped CPI increases. Two income households find it easier to save for a deposit and get a mortgage, but single income households, especially with children, find that much more difficult.
All the major political parties express copious concern about the housing affordability issue, but little action is forthcoming. As more and more people are renting houses or flats you would expect improvements in tenancy rights, however this is not the case. For many lower income tenants there is greater uncertainty around their rights to obtain long term stable leases, and rents can be put up to whatever the market will bear with little notice. Currently parts of Queensland are experiencing an apartment boom resulting in downward pressures on rents. But as soon as demand outstrips supply, tenants will again be at the mercy of market forces.
Visit Freedom Then, Freedom Now in the Philip Bacon Heritage Gallery on Level 4 of State Library to discover more about freedoms won and lost in Queensland.
Emeritus Professor Peter Spearritt