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Solutions for the Housing Crisis I

What can the Brisbane experience of "dice and slide" tell us?

By Dave Riley

This is going to be a few sketchy notes on a topic that interests me: small houses. But the more I think about it, the real marker is a touch broader: small portable houses.

In Australia there are , I guess, four categories of people who live here:
  1. Those who own their own home outright
  2. Those who are or will be paying off a home mortgage under current interest rates
  3. Those who rent and do not own a home and never will
  4. The homeless.
My family and I are among the most fortunate group as an aunt died and left us her home - gratis. It was the greatest gift one human can bestow upon another . Owning your own home is the bedrock of security in this country as it is the one thing you can do to protect your life no matter what vagaries of existence may occur. That and what remains of the welfare state comprises some degree of 'safety' under capitalism.

I won't go into the whole history of the domestic bequest except that we did sell the house we received and moved residence to the another suburb. In fact we moved into my mother in law's back yard.

This in itself is instructive .

Slide and Dice

To move into the backyard we divided the block in half.

Where we live here in Brisbane this practice is very common. It's often called "slide and dice" as original wooden dwellings are moved to one side and another house parked in the vacated space. Alternatively a side perimeter easement -- a driveway -- is laid down and another house is located behind the original.

The intention of this practice has been to increase the rates paying population of the Brisbane city area . What it has also done is create a new suburban ecology.

In my suburb within a radius of 750 metres there would be another 40 housing blocks that have been created through a similar process over the past 15 years. Houses have in effect been squeezed in.

The rider of course, is that if you are going to move houses around like pieces on chess board they have to be made of wood and most post war domiciles in Brisbane are wooden. Brick has been a phenomenon that only registered as a building material from the 1960s.

The house we live in is made of wood and fibro board (asbestos sheeting)and began life three kilometres away in 1950. In an instance of superb recycling it was moved here on the back of a truck (see example in image above) after we paid only $AUD500 for it. We changed the roof material,and added verandahs after plonking the building down on foundations that lifted the structure a metre off the ground.

So that's my experience of 'moving house'.

Today we occasionally discuss the option of dividing the house. This used to be common in Brisbane. If you had a large Queenslander style house you could divide it up into a series of flats and rent out each portion. This was a common rental practice across the city. Fire regulations have now stopped this habit so Brisbane has undergone a major shift, driven by a population explosion, to apartment style units usually of three stories, built from brick, steel and cement.

At the same time the sub divide option has enabled house builder and buyers to secure bungalow style housing among already existing suburban infrastructure.

Unaffordable housing

But the problem is that none of these initiatives have been enough to overcome the housing crisis. House and rental costs have skyrocketed as housing has been deployed as the sine qua non investment that underpins working peoples' subjective share of the investment bubble which is now collapsing around us.

New housing construction has now begun to collapse across Queensland as the 'perfect storm' of " high mortgage debt, overvalued homes and rising unemployment" kicks in. While house prices have fallen slightly and there's many enticements to buy property emanating from the federal government, the rental market cannot fill demand and rents are still rising sharply.

Foreclosures are becoming more common.

Nonetheless, financial pundits are insisting that if you can overcome your future fears in regard to your job security it is now cheaper to purchase a home rather than rent.

The story so far:

This is Part I on a series on Housing

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