Our capital city population is booming but housing supply failing to keep up

Our capital city population is booming but housing supply failing to keep up
Our capital city population is booming but housing supply failing to keep up

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has recently released demographic data at a capital city level to June 2013. 

We have previously covered the population data however, when the data is paired with dwelling approvals data over the same period there are some very interesting findings.

Over the 12 months to June 2013, the population of the combined capital cities increased by a total of 313,387 persons.  At the same time, there were 114,825 capital city dwelling approvals over the period.  Based purely on the ratio of population growth to dwelling approvals, there was one dwelling approved for construction for every 2.73 residents added to the capital cities.

At a national level, the 2011 Census reported that average people per household at that time was 2.6 persons.  Based on that figure you can see that population growth has exceeded dwelling approvals over the past year.  Of course measuring demand for housing is not quite so simple.  Although it is a bit old now, the former Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank (RBA) gave a speech entitled ‘Housing and the Economy’ to the National Housing Conference in November 2009, which is available here.  In the speech he posed the question, ‘Are we building enough dwellings?’  Two of the most interesting revelations from the speech were:

  1. A higher proportion of the new dwellings built are simply replacing existing homes that have been demolished.  The RBA estimated that between 2001 and 2006, around 15% of new dwellings built replaced those that had been demolished; 10-15 years earlier that figure was less than 10%.

  2. A significant proportion of dwelling investment appears to have gone into holiday homes or second homes.  Census data (2006 Census) shows that the number of dwellings built has exceeded the increase in the number of households by a large margin.  As a result, the ratio of the number of dwellings to the number of households has been rising over time; as at 2006, there were 8% more dwellings in Australia than there were households.  Presumably, most of this surplus reflects holiday houses and second houses.

So at a national level, the former Deputy Governor’s speech suggested that in order to cater to dwelling replacements and secondary homes we need to construct 23% more dwellings than the previous simplistic analysis of measuring the rate of population growth compared to approvals.  Also keep in mind here that we are looking at approvals, they won’t necessarily all go on to become commencements and ultimately completions.

An assumption we could make here is that, holiday and second homes are generally more likely to be situated outside rather than inside a capital city.  As a result, the second revelation detailed above is probably not going to have as much of an impact at a capital city level.  Nevertheless we still have to allow for the 15% of homes which have been demolished when looking at the approvals data.

Maybe it is time to look at ways that we can incentivise developers to bring vacant land to the market quicker rather than banking land and drip-feeding it to the market.

Across individual capital cities, the 2011 Census reported that on average; Sydney, Brisbane and Darwin had 2.7 persons per household, Melbourne, Perth and the Australian Capital Territory had 2.6 persons per household and Adelaide and Hobart had 2.4 persons per household. 

Returning to the original findings, over the year to June 2013, the capital city population increased by 313,387 persons and 114,825 dwellings were approved for construction.  If we adjust for average household sizes as per the 2011 Census, to match population growth there would have ideally been a slightly higher 119,135 approvals over the year.  If we then further adjust for the assumption that we should approve 15% more homes to replace demolitions, there should have been 137,005 dwellings approved for construction last year, a shortfall of 22,180 capital city approvals.

Chart 1

As the above chart shows, the supply of new dwelling approvals was generally quite sufficient through the 1990s however, throughout the 2000’s new dwelling approvals have been insufficient in relation to the level of population growth.  We are now seeing rising dwelling approvals on the back of escalating housing demand and rising home values which is encouraging however, it will have to continue for many years to make up for the insufficient supply response over the past decade or so. 

In Sydney and Melbourne, there was one home approved for every 2.72 and 2.48 new residents respectively indicating a level of supply closer to equilibrium with demand over the most recent year.  New supply remains very much insufficient in Brisbane and Perth where one new home was approved for every 3.26 new residents in Brisbane and 3.45 new residents in Perth.

The following charts track the annual population growth and the annual number of dwelling approvals across each capital city.

Syd chart

Mel chart

Bne chart

Adl chart

Per chart

Hob chart

Dar chart

Can chart

As the above charts show, the disconnect between the level of population growth and dwelling approvals over the past decade have been greatest within our largest capital cities.  It is no coincidence that these cities are also the regions that have been recording the greatest increase in population over this period.

A further important consideration when looking at the relationship between population growth and dwelling approvals is the type of product that is being developed for the market.  While the city-wide analysis is valuable new housing typically comes in the form of new houses on the outskirts of the city or medium to high density product within the inner city areas. Over time, we are seeing a shift away from greenfield housing development in most capital cities towards infill higher density development.

Chart 2

Over the year to June 1991, 29.9% of all new dwelling approvals across the combined capital cities were for units as opposed to houses.  In June 2013, 49.7% of all dwelling approvals over the year were for units.  Over the year, there were more units than houses approved for construction in Sydney (66.1%), Melbourne (52.7%), Brisbane (50.1%), Darwin (64.5%) and Canberra (54.9%).  The unit category type includes townhouses and semi-detached homes as well as units. 

The 2011 Census reported that across the separate house category, the most prevalent number of bedrooms is three bedrooms (49.6%) and four bedrooms (32.4%).  When you combine the results for semi-detached and units the most prevalent number of bedrooms is two bedrooms (50.1%) and three bedrooms (28.6%). 

To look at it another way, 88.8% of detached houses have three bedrooms or more compared to 66.9% of units having two bedrooms or fewer.  The point here is that if you are going to deliver more units to the market, they typically have fewer bedrooms and therefore are likely to have a smaller average household size than a detached house would.  As a result, it is likely that as the delivery of units increases there actually needs to be a greater number of units constructed in order to cater for population growth than there would have been if houses were exclusively built.

It is clear for the analysis that particularly within the four largest capital cities there has been a growing deficiency of dwellings approved for construction over recent years when compared to population growth.  Over the past 12 to 18 months there has been a noticeable rise in dwelling approvals however they will have to continue to rise over coming years to make up for the deficiency over recent years.  Particularly in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane we are seeing a push to greater density in the inner city areas. 

So how do we fix the supply side problems? 

There are many solutions but I think in the main we need to approve new developments faster, increase developable land both in the inner city and within greenfield areas and reduce the costs of new development to the developer because these costs are ultimately passed on to consumers.  Remember that developers are commercial entities looking to make the best possible returns for shareholders. 

Maybe it is time to look at ways that we can incentivise developers to bring vacant land to the market quicker rather than banking land and drip-feeding it to the market.  Whether that be an additional tax on undeveloped land or some sort of financial incentive to bring stock to the market, I am not sure, but it is clear that particularly within the major capital cities the current conditions are not working and finding a way to increase the supply of new dwellings is imperative.

Cameron Kusher

Cameron Kusher

Cameron Kusher is senior research analyst at CoreLogic RP Data.

Demographics Cameron Kusher

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