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Solutions to the Housing Crisis III

Can we afford a roof over our heads?

That the suburban sprawl is driven by a desire to keep our residential existence separate from our neighbours has more to do with the frontier habit and the aspiration for the very English garden or manor -- a marker of upward mobility. After the Second World War with full employment such homesteading became a mindset and a promise for any working class couple who had the impulse to breed.

But then home ownership was a guarantee of many things, especially, or supposedly, security.It was the best the Lucky Country had to offer -- local and migrant alike. And since it has to some degree been delivered, it's a theme that feeds on itself across generations.

But the sprawl is too big and the price for a share of it too steep to be sustainable -- let alone the environmental consequences as the suburbs spread like treacle.

Town plans adapt just as individual buyers do so that the trend to inner city urban renewal and concentration has slowed the advance on the periphery-- the suburban fringe -- the whole exercise is total madness. While "urban planning" supposedly exists it's not 'planning' at all. At best it's catch up behind a real estate monster that takes up so much of our consumption -- and thus our proletarian earnings -- that the housing industry is always the true mark of where the Australian economy is heading at any one time. The real estate market is Australian capitalism's stalking horse.

Fix the economy.

The tragedy is that unless you can fix the economy -- fix the mercurial nature of peoples' working life and income existence -- there won't be an easy way to create a new suburbia with a much more sustainable town plan. Without that fix, housing is always going to be a casino where some get lucky and some don't -- but the net effect has been the the percentage of Australians who own their own home has been largely unchanged for 40 years.
  • Around 70 per cent of Australian households own or are purchasing their home. The rate of home ownership has remained remarkably stable at this level for over four decades according to data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in its Census of Population and Housing and its Survey of Income and Housing (SIH).
  • The proportion of Australian households who own their home outright (that is, without a mortgage) has been far from stable. Based on data from the Census, the rate of outright home ownership fell from 45 per cent in 1947 to 32 per cent in 1976, rising to 43 per cent in 1996 before falling again to 35 per cent in 2006. Data from the SIH for the period 1995 96 to 2005 06 show a similar marked fall in the rate of outright home ownership, falling from 43 to 34 per cent. Home ownership in Australia - data and trends Parliamentary Library , Feb 11, 2009.
Aspiring to home ownership is, in fact, the most Sisyphean task you could tackle.

But the aspiration isn't simply a question of affordability. There is a heavy carbon load on how and where we choose or are forced to live. When you combine residence with issues of infrastructure -- especially energy supply and transport -- a big proportion of national C02 emissions per capita are tied up in our domicile habits or sentences.In fact housing is the axis of the personal carbon utilisation -- in what the homes emit while being constructed, as we live in them in the form of energy used and what we produce traveling to and from them.

While this consumption is the main focus for green washed consumables, climate change spin and personal environmental angst in regard to climate, the real gains in the reduction of C02 emissions are to be had elsewhere; standalone energy, agriculture, and all forms of transport.

Nonetheless, the eco friendly green home is practicable and any number of formulations exist to create it(eg: solar hot water,tank water supplementation,insulation, etc) . All that is required initially is to retro fit what may be accomodating the estimated 7.4 million households in Australia.

But even when you ponder that massive task, the Housing Industry Association estimates that despite the fact that mortgage repayments now account for 29.1 per cent of an average first home buyer’s income – the highest percentage on record. (ref) -- a million new homes need to be built over the next five years to keep pace with the expected population growth.(ref)

Where and how are these houses to be built?

The story so far:

1 Com:

Ben Courtice | April 04, 2009

"the frontier habit and the aspiration for the very English garden or manor" -- that is a good summation. As you point out, these detached houses on their discreet quarter-acre blocks can actually be retrofitted (or built) to be quite sustainable in and of themself. But there's a lot of wasted space. In most new housing estates, even the small houses are crowded up to the edge of the block, leaving narrow little alleyways in between with a fence to divide. You don't get the efficiency (in building materials and insulation terms) of semi-detached houses sharing a wall, but you don't get the pleasure of any meaningful garden space either, really - just a few shrubs or maybe just a patch of concrete. Far better to run all these shoebox houses together into rows of semi-detached houses, with a decent shared garden space behind or in front. Balconies and rooftop patios could provide for some private space, probably about as much as the crappy little yards that these places have anyway.

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