Why Large Apartment Developments are Not an Answer to the Housing Problem in Victoria

Contributor P.Herman is a member of a forum where part of this opinion appeared, and contacted the author, who agreed to it’s inclusion, and expanded the article for us. The author is a statistician working in planning outcomes.

The idea that large apartment developments provide an answer to housing problems is not really correct. The RBA warned again last year about  a “marked oversupply” of apartments. Inner-city Melbourne is forecast to have the largest number of completions (around 16,000) over the next two years. Previously many apartments have been bought by foreign investors. But foreign demand has sharply decreased (up to 80% of Chinese buyers are uncertain of settlement, with a crackdwn on capital outflows), and Australian buyers are now justifiably wary of off-the- plan purchases. If apartments aren’t sold, they aren’t able to be occupied or rented.  The situation is further complicated by the increase in foreign investor default, so all those previously uncounted apartments come back into the supply. Some completed buildings actually have a low occupancy level. A high proportion of people who have previously bought apartments off the plan have unfortunately  seen a decrease in the value of their property, and an increase in difficulty of sale.

The DELWP released research in 2016 that showed 60 per cent of apartments recently constructed in Melbourne were of low quality. Smaller apartments often have no storage space, so people store things in fire hydrant cupboards and on balconies, which is one of the reasons the Docklands Lacrosse fire was so extensive. Better Apartments Draft Design Standards, also released last year, (slightly) increased access to light and ventilation, but, unlike the NSW ones, (and ones for most major international cities), don’t set minimum size requirements. The satandards also don’t apply to apartments approved before the BADDS were released.

There is a lack of regard for impacts of new development on community infrastructure, for both new and current residents. There isn’t much use being able to buy or rent an apartment (no matter how small and low quality) if you then have to drive a long distance to get your kids to school. As an example, I’ll use Abbotsford.  I’m picking on poor old Abbotsford because it’s part of the seat of the current Planning Minister Richard Wynne, and also one of the highest areas of apartment development, with more than 7,000 new apartments approved from 2013 on. It was also one of the black-listed suburbs on the NAB list.

Within the next three years Victorian schools will be teaching one million students. In Abbotsford,  there are two primary schools. The public school has an enrolment of 147 students, P-6, with 12 teaching staff. The other is a fee-paying Steiner school.  The 2016/17 Victorian Budget includes $12 million for school planning across the state, with Abbotsford Primary School one of 34 schools to receive funding – so possibly around $353,000.  Funds will go towards appointing architects for the upgrades, and architectural drawings. No commitment has been made to fund the actual upgrades, and there doesn’t seem to be any increase in the size of the school planned.

You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that 7,000 new apartments are probably going to increase the number of children requiring education. So they’ll need to go elsewhere. (According to Michael Buxton’s research some inner city apartment dwellers are driving up to 1.5 hours per day to get their kids to and from school).

Hello climate change. This is not forward thinking in any way. Or maybe families just shouldn’t expect to be able to live in inner city areas?

Another climate change issue disregarded in large developments is the fact that many of the occupiers of these apartments will be heavy users of air-conditioning, through necessity. Apartments may lack sufficient access to fresh air, they heat up fast in hot weather, and are often poorly designed to cope with neighbouring smells such as cigarette smoke. Victoria currently does not have regulations to prevent smoke drift. In summer, during peak power usage, adding many thousands of air conditioners to the burden on the grid is not a particularly useful thing to do. Apart from the climate change implications, the extra burden has the possibility to cause blackouts, as was seen in South Australia recently.

The Environment Protection Agency has stated that population growth is having profound impacts on the environment, with increasing waste, noise, pollution, and declining air quality.
Developers aren’t required to include low cost community housing as part of their developments, and where they have been, stuff like this has happened:

http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/hundreds-of-millions-unaccounted-for-from-kew-cottages-20170317-gv0ljn.html

The obligation for developers to provide green space for the new residents of apartment buildings is negligible. A public open space nearby is usually deemed sufficient. That public space is often already at capacity use for current residents. Adding hundreds more residents to  the usage is both environmentally damaging, and reduces amenity for all users.

More apartments doesn’t automatically mean that more people have an acceptable or affordable place to live.

These are difficult issues, complicated by the inflated input of developers into both the planning system and the political system of Melbourne. Our current rate of poulation growth is unsustainable, and most of the people doing the planning know it. Will they have the guts to do anything about it? Probably not.