The 25 million person housing problem

In early August, Australia’s population officially passed the 25 million mark – a huge milestone which was originally predicted to occur in 2042. Instead of taking 40 years, it took just 16.

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In Victoria, 2016 was actually the strongest year for population growth for Victoria since the Gold Rush.


"Younger people are now finding it more and more difficult to get into the housing market.”

But with the population accelerating so rapidly, is Australia’s housing market keeping up?

ANZ Research normally thinks about drivers of growth such as commodities, services exports and construction, but population growth has been particularly strong for a number of years and is a driver of growth not bound to a particular industry.

However, we haven't turned this into a relationship where strong population growth and strong employment growth and strong economic growth are all occurring together.

A stark outcome of this population growth is the backlog which has emerged in housing. Population growth has changed over time and from the late 1990s onwards not enough has been done in housing to absorb the population increase.

To meet housing demands, there needs to be an increase in the density of housing supply. 

So although there has been a massive upswing in construction recently, all that is doing is meeting the additional inflow of population growth. It's not doing much to address the underlying shortage which has built up over the past 15 years.

In Victoria, ANZ Research estimated from the 2016 Census there was a shortage of around 50,000 houses. This is an important problem and directly impacts housing affordability. 

As a result of this shortage, younger people are finding it more and more difficult to get into the housing market and start their own household. So the average household formation age has continued to rise and a lot of it comes back to the worsening affordability. 

More recently, stamp duty discounts for first home buyers across Victoria and New South Wales have made the market more accessible, and first home buyers are now at the highest level in around five years. But we know from previous experience that these policies won’t pull forward demand indefinitely, and more fundamental changes are needed to keep housing affordable.

Put simply, it all comes back to supply vs. demand, and as the population continues to grow so too will the need for more supply.

Daniel Gradwell is a senior economist at ANZ.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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