The rise of the vertical families


Data shows that Sydney has a bigger proportion of apartments, terrace houses and townhouses than any other Australian state capital

A report by demography company McCrindle predicts that detached dwellings will be in the minority by 2024, citing trends over the past 25 years that show the share of detached homes in the major cities having fallen from 68% to 55%. Sydney’s once traditional standalone homes with a backyard will be outnumbered by apartments, townhouses and terrace houses within seven years—terrace /townhouses at 17%; detached houses at 34%, and apartments at 49%.

Urban Taskforce Australia, which represents developers, commissioned a Sydney Lifestyle survey in 2017 based on data from the 2016 census and a survey of 1,500 households to analyse the lifestyles and attitudes of Sydneysiders who live in high-density accommodation. It found that Sydney apartments are most likely to be occupied by singles (34%) or couples (27%). The report highlights rapid growth in the numbers of couples with children living in apartments. Such households—dubbed “vertical families”—jumped from 65,000 in 2011 to more than 87,000 in 2016—an increase of 34%.

One in five apartments in Sydney are occupied by couples with children, with the top five Sydney suburbs featuring as follows: Parramatta; Bankstown; Westmead; Liverpool; and Campsie.

Strong growth has also been registered in apartments occupied by single-parent families, which now account for 8% of high-density accommodation occupiers. The number of such families in living in apartments has grown by 14% since 2011.

The report’s author, Mark Crindle, said that the prevalence of families with children living in apartments represented a major demographic shift for Sydney. “Couples with children is one of the fastest growing segments in the apartments category,” he said.

Census 2016 data showed that Sydney to have more than 100 suburbs where half or more of the population live in apartments. The shift to higher-density living is driven by proximity to employment, housing affordability and changing lifestyle preferences.

Sydney has a bigger proportion of apartments, terrace houses and townhouses than any other Australian state capital. Overall, though, the share of high-density accommodation in Australia is low compared to many other industrialised countries.

Sydney’s apartment dwellers are relatively young and well-educated. According to the McCrindle study, 54% have a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education compared to 40% of people living in detached housing. Tenants also form a large proportion of apartment dwellers—63% compared to just 18% in detached houses.

The report forecasts the share of detached houses to fall to just 25% of Sydney’s housing stock by the middle of this century, with apartments set to “become the most dominant housing type of accommodation in Sydney”.

Chris Johnson, Chief Executive of Urban Taskforce, cited the research as highlighting the need for services catering to families that opt for high-density living. “There are crucial messages to the development industry about the design of family-friendly apartments with amenities such as child care nearby,” he said.

Mr Johnson advised politicians to pay attention to the various demographic groups living in apartments who are likely to have political preferences quite different from those of house dwellers.

The New South Wales government is on track to double the supply of homes achieved through the rezoning of state land. The state continued its streak of record housing approvals for the 45th consecutive month. Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that about 69,700 dwellings were approved in the year to October 2017.

Most new homes are currently being built in Western Sydney. In the year to September, 4,877 new homes were built in Parramatta, 2,997 in Blacktown, 2,748 in Canterbury-Bankstown, 2,521 in Camden and 2,386 in the City of Sydney. As suburbs continue to expand and the number of new apartments are built in higher proportion to all homes, Mr Johnson also expected voting preferences to change.

Interestingly, the research also found that Sydney’s apartment dwellers held more progressive political views than those residing in detached houses. Three quarters of apartment dwellers say governments should spend more money to improve social services even if it results in a budget deficit. Four in five apartment dwellers conclude that governments should “make changes” to liberalise euthanasia, relax laws on illicit drugs and reduce incarceration rates and jail terms.


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