Gruelling commutes and endless expansion, or more units; it's time for change

Federal and state government policies are doing little to promote higher density living in Australia's major cities and for the sake of the nation's workforce and environment, according to PGS Invest, changes are needed to promote more unit living options.

Wide drone panorama of Bunbury City from the south, accentuating the flat urban sprawl.
Australia's cities have a poor record when it comes to urban density, with Perth the world's longest city, Melbourne's suburbia expanding quicker than the other state capitals, while Sydney is not even half as dense as most European cities. (Image source:

The housing landscape in Australia is at a critical juncture, grappling with a severe shortage of both general and affordable housing options. Despite its urgency, this issue remains inadequately addressed, exacerbating the challenges faced by many Australians looking to enter the property market.

One significant barrier is the escalating cost of homeownership, amplified by dwindling dwelling approvals and soaring inflation that has contributed to constricted market supply.

Compounding this, state governments continue to implement policies such as first home owner grants, exacerbating demand-driven pressures and further aggravating the housing crisis.

Australia’s unique cultural values also present challenges. A prevailing ideology of owning a detached house on a sizable plot of land often overshadows consideration of alternative housing options.

This narrow focus not only limits housing diversity but also perpetuates the housing affordability crisis.

Behind the scenes, federal and state government policies further constrict land use, while planning departments employ these policies to make subjective decisions on residential area intensification.

Living an hour away from the CBD on a 300-square-metre block is becoming unsustainable, both economically and environmentally.

- Tyler O’Brien, PGS Invest

Although seemingly abundant, much of Australia’s land is unsuitable for development due to environmental protection measures.

For instance, the 2021 classification of the koala as an endangered species led to the designation of millions of hectares as Core and Priority Koala Habitat, rendering numerous potential development sites unviable.

Moreover, native title claims add another layer of complexity, further restricting land availability in certain cities.

Need for more medium-density housing

To foster sustainable housing solutions, there must be a fundamental shift in policymaking, planning benchmarks, and societal perceptions surrounding medium-density living.

Tyler O’Brien, Sales Director, PGS Invest, emphasises the need for change.

“Australians need to reconsider their housing preferences.

“Living an hour away from the CBD on a 300-square-metre block is becoming unsustainable, both economically and environmentally.

“Embracing unit and townhouse living can offer better locational choices and cost-effective solutions for homebuyers.”

Having extensively analysed various markets, Tyler said there are significant limitations imposed by an excessive focus on low density housing.

“Government agencies, specifically planning departments, need to encourage the medium density sector to alleviate housing shortages and reduce barriers for developers.

“Strong collaboration between government and developers can still yield mutually beneficial outcomes, support community growth, and deliver well designed projects.

“Furthermore, the environmental benefits of medium-density housing, and its ability to accommodate more people, preserve natural vegetation, and protect native species when implemented correctly”.

Looking beyond our shores, many countries have successfully embraced unit living, offering valuable lessons for Australia. Rather than perpetuating urban sprawl, the focus should shift towards diversifying housing options, unlocking supply and promoting environmental stewardship.

Addressing Australia’s housing crisis requires a holistic approach that challenges traditional norms, embraces innovative housing solutions, and prioritises environmental sustainability.

It is time to rethink our housing preferences and policies to build a more resilient, inclusive and environmentally conscious future for all Australians.

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