We had been led to believe that Australians were increasingly embracing apartment living as a means of securing a home closer to the city centre. Or are apartments just all that’s being built in some locations and are taken up because they are the only option on offer?
Swelling population growth in Australia has produced a higher number of people living in apartments, growing from 1.33 million in 2011, to 1.39 million in 2016. But the actual overall proportion of apartment dwellers versus those in other dwelling types has proven to have not only stalled, but is actually shrinking.
Proportion of Apartment dwellers going down
Recent data, provided by comparing the 2011 and 2016 Censuses shows the share of Australians living in apartments has gone down from 14.6% to 14.1%.
Despite the fact that many people love their inner urban apartment lifestyle, particularly in Sydney, the general stalling of apartment take-up would appear to be one carry over effect of the speculative investment that helped underwrite the apartment building boom. A significant proportion of new apartments being investment vehicles rather than a genuine homebuyer preference.
Ross Elliott, prior Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia and a veteran property commentator believes the apartment lifestyle promoted by “inner-city boosters” has never been embraced on the scale they claim. He says there has been a blurring between very sellable products snapped up by investors, which they never plan to inhabit, and homes that people really want to live in.
Residents in Singapore or Hong Kong have to live in apartments but with Australia’s greater supply of open space there is far less compulsion for apartment block living. Ross Elliot believes the proportional trend away from apartments will continue, as investment speculation cools in that sector.
Was the Census accurate enough?
But there are other opinions on what the Census results are telling us.
University of New South Wales Professor, Bill Randolph, hails a warning, based on the census collection method. He claims the data on apartment dwellers may be inaccurate, simply because many apartment security measures made Census collection difficult and also because of the language gap – many city apartment dwellers have poor command of English and low ability or motivation to respond accurately to the Census. So they would be under-represented in the results.
Bill Randolph also believes people will continue to embrace apartments because it’s their only option. If it fits in with people’s life stage – young, professional, city-centric, then they will buy in out of sheer necessity. There’s no other choice in the locales they favour.
Substantial shift to medium density housing
Bill Randolph notes however, that there is more concrete evidence in the data of a shift to semi-detached dwellings like townhouses. The Census showed Australians living in separate housing shrank from 73.7% in 2011 to 71% in 2016. But those living in semi-detached, medium density housing grew from 9.9% to 12.8% over this period.
What is clear in the data is a move away from separate housing toward multi-residential types of living, which in Melbourne’s case, has been taken up by one-third of the population already, who chose medium or high density housing.
Considering what the Census data tells us over the longer term, and for what likely lays ahead, many commentators recognise townhouse and semi-detached dwellings as a critical area of new growth. They have a price benefit against detached homes in the same locale but with the same urban amenity. Being bigger than a unit or apartment, medium density dwellings offer more space, inside and out, which means more of the Australian traditional lifestyle still preferred by most home-owners.