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We have plenty of housing, yet we still are bulldozing koala habitat.

Updated: Mar 14, 2020

There are 4-14 million spare rooms in Australia in any given night. It depends on who's counting. Most don't count the first spare room as a spare room. I suppose it's not spare unless it's spare after you rename it a sewing room, office or massage room. It drives me spare! (sorry for not spare-ing you; I had to ..... )

Clearly we do have a housing problem. Homeless and rough sleeping are rising.

Worringly, the fastest growing demographic for homelessness is women over 50.

And young people are finding it impossible to buy into the market.

There are many factors why housing needs a reboot. 1) Australian houses are big. Too big. 2) Housing costs are rising faster than wages (the answer isn't in increasing wages by the way). 3) Our tastes have changed 4) Housing in Australia has been linked to wealth creation. And that's the big problem.

1. Large houses

Australians have the world's biggest houses at 246sq metres. Amercian housing unsurprisingly comes in second. What is surprising however, is that American houses are an average of 214 sq metres. That's 15% smaller! By the way, Hong Kong and UK come in way under 100 sq metres. 'Heat maps' show that people don't use the space inside thier home anyway. We simply don't need the size housing we have. We need housing solutions that are smaller. I predict that the average '4 bed 2 bath' stock that we are churning out , in increasingly poor quailty, on increasingly poor quality property, will be worth nothing in the next 10 -20 years. We think that's the housing stock that we need, but we don't. Families need it for a relativily short period of time in thier life cycle, but we hang on and live in large houses in order to create wealth, but that's another story. People are wanting smaller houses, houses in walking distance to services, housing that meets the number one human need - each other.

2. Housing costs

Housing costs have risen dramatically. The average wage in 1975 was around $6000 a year. The average house price was around $30,000 ; which is 5-6 years worth of a wage earner. The averge income is now around $70,000 and it's pretty hard to buy our house for less than half or three quarters of a million, which would take over 10 years of wages to pay off. It's not just about young people buying smashed avocadso for breakfast, if something is not attainable, people will give up even trying.

3. Our tastes have changed.

This is probably a nice way of saying that we as a society have become less content. My parents were content with a smaller house, overseas travel wasn't an option, and they didn't spend half their wage on after school activities for the kids. Today, we do have an insatiable need to renovate the house, add on a deck or a swimming pool. Simplicity and minimalism are thankfully making a comeback, but it's hard when you live in the suburbs, captured by the need to own a car and in a street where no one knows if you live or die. Take it from me, connected community is the only way to stop the headlong dash into consumerism. One simply doesn't need to fill one's life with junk (junk food, junk entertainment, junk buying), when our life is connected.

4. Housing as Wealth Creation

We have grandma sitting on 6 bedroom homes in the hope that housing prices will rise, in the misguided idea that her children and grandchildren will have a better life if she gives them the healthiest inheritance possible. She really should be encouraged by government incentive to downsize, and let families or groups who need 6 bedrooms to use it. Not every country in the world uses housing for wealth creation. Generations of families in Turkey for example, have been renting for 400 years without the fear that Australian renters often face without secure tenure. So we don't have a housing problem, we have a resource allocation problem!

At Eco Villages Australia, we are shifting the housing goal posts. Through, 'collective ownership', we provide a way to get out of the rat race. Those with cash 'pitch in' and loan to the non-profit, and then residents contribute to pay the loans back. We live in smaller dwellings (and larger shared facilities), so there is less to maintain and clean. If someone needs more or less rooms, they just move next door to optimise the space. The housing system as it is breeds rich and poor enclaves. Sociologists say that pay checque polarisation is not helpful to us as humans.

We have plenty of housing, 4-14 million spare bedrooms actually. Yet we still are bulldozing koala habitat to keep the construction industry happy. It's time for a rethink of our whole housing system, which is why Eco Villages Australia are working hard to create a model that works - sometimes people need to see something in action to realise its even an option. Come to our open days, or work parties and let's change the world - one village at a time.


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