Dacland managing director talks housing affordability

Over the past decade, the government has attempted to tackle housing affordability by implementing countless measures, from the removal of stamp duty taxes and first home owner grants, through to penalising foreign investment. Yet, the Victorian Planning Authority (VPA) predicted the continuation of the quarter century decline of home ownership rates, confirmed by the 2016 Census. So now the question is, why can’t we just get it right?

I believe there are three key factors holding back our industry:

  • restrictive and time-consuming planning regulations
  • a severe undersupply of construction resources
  • the absence of infrastructure investment in the key growth corridors of Victoria.

Collectively, these factors are stifling developers’ ability to bring stock to the market to meet demand. According to industry website Sourceable, Melbourne development approvals take an average of nine months. As a result, developers tie up resources and capital in projects for extended periods and are unable to deliver the supply of housing needed to meet the state’s growing demand. These delays not only impact the final cost, they also immobilise developers who are unable to work on more projects concurrently.

In the 2017 State of Land Report by the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) it states that “57,000 new lots were released in 2016, a 10% increase since 2015” and yet the demand for these lots still outweighs supply. Buyers continue to camp out for land releases, sometimes for days at a time, afraid that if not, they will, yet again, miss out on the type of block or location that suits their needs.

Collectively, the delay caused by these issues directly correlates to holding costs for developers. Every month that a project is delayed the corresponding holding cost increases, attributed to high construction costs, mounting land taxes, council rates, interest on loans and more. In a study by Urbis commissioned by the Property Council, it was found that these delays can add anywhere from $10,253 to $36,779 to the average cost of a block of land. A cost that must either be absorbed by the developer, or passed on to the purchaser.

The key concern is that this problem is on the rise. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimate that the population of Australia will grow from 23 million to between 36.8 million and 48.53 million by 2061. According to the UDIA, due to this growing population, Victoria alone needs to deliver in excess of 55,000 new homes per year.

Looking beyond the limitation of the current planning process and undersupply of resources, the industry is also crippled by a lack of infrastructure investment in Victoria’s growth corridors. Danni Addison, Victorian CEO of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) says that investment in infrastructure is at the heart of housing affordability and that we must be “focusing on investing in and delivering the roads and services that will make these areas more accessible to employment, amenities, and services”.

In the Interim Report released by the Victorian Population Policy Taskforce released in June 2017, it was revealed that 77 per cent of Victoria’s population live in Melbourne and that if Victoria does not move “from a city state into a state of cities”, this growth is simply unsustainable. However, creating a planning system that is it up to speed with this fast-paced industry is only one piece of the puzzle. The demand for contractors and resources is skyrocketing. Contractors for major works are being shared amongst a huge number of competing developers, and those same contractors are often tendering for major infrastructure projects, of which there are a number currently underway. The tug-of-war battle for resources is causing increased delays and higher construction costs. The 2016 census by the Australian Bureau of Statistics states that Victoria noted the most rapid growth in its history, recording a 10.7 per cent increase in population since 2011.

By working with industry bodies like the UDIA, Property Council of Australia (PCA) and others, we can bring about real positive change. Industry peers must support industry bodies to lobby for changes at a state and national level. The recent government measures are simply not enough to facilitate this enormous increase in delivery. In fact, many of the changes will only lead to an increase in demand, pushing out development timelines and supply even further. If the government is serious about enforcing change that will have a tangible effect on affordability and supply, it needs to minimise delays and red tape and provide a commitment to drive additional resources to streamline and fast-track the process. Only then can we work cohesively to keep up with the growing demands of Melbourne, Victoria and beyond.

As active industry members, we too are accountable for the housing affordability crisis. It is imperative that we pool our collective research and knowledge to inspire government and lobby for the real, tangible changes our industry needs in order to thrive and keep meeting the evolving needs of Australians across the country.

John C. Dwyer is the managing director of Dacland, an award-winning, urban design-led land developer founded in 1999. Today, Dacland boasts over 6500 land lots across its portfolio worth a combined total of $2.1billion.

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