Census snapshot: One million homes left empty across Australia
July 18 2017
By Eryk Bagshaw for the Sydney Morning Herald.
Australia has 200,000 more homes sitting empty than it had a decade ago, new figures show, despite the country grappling with a housing supply shortage that is pushing the cost of a first home beyond many of its residents.
The figures from the 2016 census have been described as ‘‘cruel and immoral’’ by leading UNSW urban policy expert Hal Pawson, who has warned the government must act to stem the growth in unoccupied housing.
‘‘There is gross underoccupation across Australia,’’ Mr Pawson said, adding that there were up to a million homes with three or more extra bedrooms than the owner required.
The figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show up to 11.2 per cent of properties are now unoccupied, up from 9.8 per cent in 2006. In two decades Australia has added 2.1 million homes to its property portfolio but an extra 360,000 are being left vacant.
Separate analysis by the Grattan Institute, released on Monday, found the number of home owners has been falling for three decades, with the spike in home ownership restricted to baby boomers.
‘‘Falling home ownership rates for younger Australians, especially 25-to 34-year-olds where home ownership rates are down 6 per cent in the last decade alone, are just the latest evidence that the traditional Australian dream is slipping out of their reach,’’ said Grattan Institute fellow Brendan Coates.
He found home ownership was also down by 7 per cent over the past decade for 35- to 44-year-olds.
On Monday, shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the uneven playing field created by negative gearing and capital gains tax was ‘‘threatening to leave generations of permanent renters’’.
Mr Pawson said the high levels of vacant housing was only compounding the problem, with unused houses driving down supply in both the rental and mortgage markets.
‘‘Considering that thousands of people sleep rough – almost 7000 on census night in 2011, more than 400 per night in Sydney in 2017 and that hundreds of thousands face overcrowded homes or unaffordable rents – these seem like cruel and immoral revelations.’’
Treasurer Scott Morrison introduced measures in the May budget to hit foreign buyers with thousands of dollars in fees for leaving their investment properties vacant, while also encouraging older Australians to downsize by allowing people aged over 65 to contribute $300,000 from the sale of their homes into their tax-free superannuation.
Mr Pawson urged the government to go further by helping the states replace stamp duty with land tax, removing the up-front cost of stamp duty as a disincentive for home owners to downsize.
But CoreLogic commercial research analyst Eliza Owen said in July up to 524,779 of the vacant dwellings at the time of the census could be accounted for by market turnover.
She said based on 2011 census analysis the highest level of vacant properties were associated with holiday homes in coastal Victoria and regional NSW, rather than in areas of high residential demand.
‘‘Higher levels of unoccupied stock provide some credence to the notion that some properties are being purchased without an intention to tenant them,’’ she said.
‘‘This phenomenon is most evident within inner-city unit markets.’’
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