Rapid growth prompts rethink on how to house Perth's population

If Perth is to house its rapidly growing population and emerge from a housing crisis, it is going to need all the help it can get from YIMBYs, the infill development supporters saying 'Yes, In My Back Yard'.

Aerial view of the Shorehaven Waterfront Park, Perth, Western Australia.
Perth's continued urban sprawl, such as this emerging suburb in the city's outer north, is intensifying calls for greater density within established suburbs. (Image source: Shutterstock.com)

In the midst of the current housing crisis, debate around Perth’s urban growth and the need to continue to densify and diversify our housing stock remains at the forefront.

While all levels of government and industry are on the same page when it comes to the need to deliver homes fast and affordably to meet current and future demand, we do need to remain cognisant of where we are delivering those homes, along with the quality and type of homes that suit our growing and evolving population.  

The WA State Government has a published target of 49 per cent infill development, with a range of specific housing targets set out in the Perth and Peel @ 3.5 million frameworks for relevant local government areas. 

For Perth to become a more compact and connected city, as laid out in these frameworks, we need to support a balanced approach between development in new areas and infill development in appropriate areas such as activity centres and transit hubs.

Delivering a greater diversity of housing in a range of areas, has an important impact on housing affordability and the ability to house a growing population in the midst of record low rental vacancy rates, rising interest rates and overall cost of living pressures.

While industry is generally supportive of the State Government in relation to that overall vision for a more compact and connected city, local governments (influenced by local community members) can be a barrier to infill development, including medium and high-rise development in their local neighbourhoods.

UDIA WA is keen to promote the benefits that can be achieved in relation to quality medium and high-density development in appropriate locations.

To that end, community expectations and views on infill development, particularly medium and high-density housing development, was the focus of a recent industry event hosted by UDIA WA entitled Rethinking the Great Australian Dream: a debate on density, design and developing for the future.   

The event featured a presentation by Dr Max Holleran, author of the book Yes to the City Millennials and the Fight for Affordable Housing, which is an in-depth exploration of the ‘Yes, in my backyard’ (YIMBY) movement.

The ‘YIMBY’ movement started in San Francisco and encourages positive attitudes toward sustainable growth and ‘good’ development in our cities to benefit future generations.

The movement claims to promote the ‘silent majority’ of local communities, including renters, migrants, young people and students, who are often overlooked by more traditional community engagement practices.

Dr Holleran outlined how YIMBYs are seeking more new-build development that is well serviced by public transport and that enhances neighbourhood economies. 

Interestingly, Dr Holleran outlined why millennials are predominantly driving the YIMBY movement, given how the 2008 Global Financial Crisis impacted their generation’s buying power and views on urban living.

Many millennials are open to a greater diversity of housing, with views on where those homes are located and to what height limit. Dr Holleran said the feeling of being locked out of home ownership due to escalating housing costs is further reinforcing the desire, and need, for more infill development.

Dr Holleran’s presentation about the YIMBY movement in the United States was reinforced at a local level by Mayor of Stirling, Mark Irwin, speaking at the same event.  

Mr Irwin is mayor of the largest local government (by population) in Perth, with Stirling being designated a strategic metropolitan activity centre under the Perth and Peel @ 3.5 million frameworks. Under the frameworks, Stirling is set to reach close to 350,000 residents by the year 2050 and nearly 150,000 homes within the local area.

The City of Stirling has fostered a reputation for forward thinking and working with industry and stakeholders to deliver a diversity of housing, including higher density precincts in key locations within the local government area.

Mr Irwin did note that one of the key criteria for developing successful precincts is access to public transport. The City is currently trialling WA’s first trackless tram, involving a range of experts that will examine how the technology works to help determine whether it can be implemented along busy Scarborough Beach Road.

The crux of the conversation at our event, which we hope will filter out more broadly, is that a positive approach to delivering ‘density done well’ is needed across local governments in Perth if we are going to see change happen at the rate required.

While changing attitudes is one aspect of the journey toward more diverse housing in Perth, there are also current market barriers that need to be overcome in relation to skills and material costs that are impacting medium and high-density project viability.

UDIA WA is keen to continue a positive dialogue around Perth’s urban growth and development and how we can achieve greater housing diversity across the continuum. This is an important aspect of addressing the current housing supply crisis as well as delivering housing that meets future needs.

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