The Housing Industry Association released a report recently that revealed there were less than 50 development applications made in key residential areas in the 12 months leading up to June this year. That represents a fall of over 60% when compared to the same period just one year earlier.

This report is significant because it provides some insight into the lack of medium density housing in Canberra’s inner suburbs, which is an important issue impacting an increasing number of Canberrans who are currently on the lookout for accommodation options suitable for their changing lifestyles.

Many older members of our population are at the age when they start thinking about moving into a property that better meets their needs. Many of them have been living in the same property, on a large block of land, for the last 40 or 50 years. They are looking for a newer, more energy efficient property that requires much less maintenance and upkeep. A place they can just lock up and leave if they decide they want to go travelling. At the same time, they still want a bit of space, enough for a nice outdoor garden or courtyard, somewhere their pets or grandkids can run around in. And perhaps most importantly, they want to live in the same area. After all, they have lived most of their lives there and have built close ties with the local community. Their friends are nearby, as are the doctors, pharmacists, physios and other important amenities.

Unfortunately, finding an existing property like this can prove to be very difficult and there is a distinct lack of sites available for new properties of this nature to be built. Canberra’s newer suburbs and Greenfield sites aren’t attractive to this demographic, mainly because of their locations, but also due to the cost of land. Apartments aren’t suitable for many of these people either, as they don’t provide the space and privacy they are looking for. Now, you’d think the obvious solution would be to redevelop the current property they are living in, split the block of land in half and create two separate dwellings. The only problem is that the capacity for most people to do this is diminished by the value of the current property, which when combined with a lease variation charge, makes redevelopment on these sites financially unviable for most people.

Situations like this are a significant factor in the decline of development in Canberra’s older, more centralised suburbs, as well as certain areas in Belconnen, Woden, Weston Creek and Tuggeranong, which is bad news for everyone. If older Canberrans are unable to find suitable new housing and they can’t afford to build their own, they end up staying in their ageing properties which no longer suit their needs. The problem is further compounded when you consider that many of these properties need a lot of work to bring them up to modern standards.

Making redevelopment easier and more affordable by replacing the lease variation charge with more productive and progressive taxes wouldn’t just make it easier for downsizers to find suitable homes in the suburbs they have lived most of their lives in, it would mean we could replace older, rundown properties with newer and more energy efficient designs. It would also open up more centrally located affordable housing for new home buyers, helping to strengthen and revitalise our existing suburban areas. This would reduce the pressure to build vast new housing estates, along with the roads and infrastructure needed to support them. It would even help to increase government revenue from more equitable property taxes on the sale of these new properties.

This is definitely a problem worth solving. By looking closely at all benefits and introducing smart new policies that proactively support our aging population, first home buyers and the Canberra community as a whole, we can find a solution that works for everybody and makes a significant contribution to affordable housing opportunities while breathing new life into Canberra’s vibrant communities.



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