Why Sydney's housing policies are failing

3 September 2016

Urban planners at the University of Sydney and the University of Hong Kong have set up a collaborative relationship to research residential development in both cities.

Urban planners Nicole Gurran and Rebecca Chiu are collaborating on research that investigates and compares the extraordinary housing pressures in Sydney and Hong Kong.

With the median house price running at 12 times the average household income, Sydney was recently placed third on the UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index, an international list of overpriced cities.

But Hong Kong fared even worse, with the median house price commanding 19 times the average household income. Only London was more expensive.

Professor Gurran said: “In both London and Hong Kong – in stark contrast to Australia – planning policies ensure that affordable rental housing is available for low and moderate income groups. In Hong Kong, there is a strong commitment to the production of affordable housing as part of the overall development process.”

Professor Gurran, an urban planner and policy analyst at the University of Sydney, focuses her research on comparative land use planning systems and approaches to housing and ecological sustainability.

She has collaborated for several years with Professor Chiu, Head of the Department of Planning and Design, and Director of the Centre of Urban Studies and Urban Planning at the University of Hong Kong.

They recently published a book, ‘Politics, Planning and Housing Supply in Australia, England and Hong Kong’, which investigates the power relationships and politics that underpin the allocation of land for large-scale residential schemes, and the processes and politics that lead to particular development outcomes.

Both spoke at a lecture hosted by the University of Sydney’s Henry Halloran Trust earlier this year comparing London, Hong Kong and Sydney in terms of planning and housing supply.

Professor Gurran said Sydney and Hong Kong faced similar debates over housing supply, affordability and the planning system. But unlike Hong Kong, Sydney had consistently failed to provide a high ratio of affordable homes in new developments.

“In Sydney we need to learn to look at housing as a shelter, not a commodity,” she said.

She added: “I’m very pleased to have an institutional connection with Hong Kong University, which is very well placed within the Asia Pacific region for examining comparative urban and housing systems. This agreement provides a new platform for collaboration, exchange and dialogue between scholars and practitioners in both Sydney and Hong Kong.”

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