Surging house prices threaten liveability in Melbourne

By Michael Mata



While Melburnians take great pride in their city’s “Most Liveable City in the World” title, a variety of factors are threatening the city’s pre-eminence, according to property and planning experts.

Expensive housing, sprawling outer suburbs lacking proper infrastructure, jammed freeways, and packed trains are gradually threatening the Victorian capital’s once-enviable way of life.

While the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has ranked Melbourne as the world’s most liveable city for the past six years, if property trends continue on their current path, Melbourne could become just as unaffordable as Sydney.

According to the latest data from CoreLogic, Sydney registered 12.4% growth and Melbourne registered 15.9% growth over the past year, making this the first time that Melbourne’s dwelling values have increased at a higher rate than Sydney’s year on year.

“It wasn’t really a big surprise, to be honest, because Sydney has more investors and they’re being charged a lot for loans so that portion of the market is cooling slightly,” said Cameron Kusher, head of research at CoreLogic. “If the market continues in this direction for a few years, you still may have cheaper house prices in Melbourne, but people are going to have to move a lot further out to get them.”

Melbourne’s projected population surge is further complicating the city’s problems. According to the recently released interim report of the Victorian Population Policy Taskforce, the city’s population growth, which is tipped to hit eight million by 2051, acutely threatens the city’s reputation for liveability.

“Victoria is growing at over 100,000 people every year, yet there is no clear plan to ensure that infrastructure and services keep pace with this enormous growth in our population,” the report’s authors said.

Independent economist Saul Eslake shares the concerns of planners, opposition MPs, and local residents, stating that Melbourne “is at risk of becoming as unliveable as Sydney.”

“The rapidly rising house prices are a source of growing inequality and social division, Eslake said. “While rising prices are great for people who have at least one property, they are terrible for those who don’t, and so you end up with this great polarisation within the community. When you get to a situation where police officers and nurses can’t afford to buy a home in the community they contribute to and are engaged with, you have a real problem.”

Eslake said Melbourne’s peak liveability levels were in 2004, when population growth was still buttressed by accessible transportation and affordable housing. Things have been on a downward spiral since.

“If you have rapid population growth without the planning, life becomes harder in ways that are hard to capture in statistics,” Eslake said. “People are being forced further out to afford housing, they’re commuting long distances every day because they’re on the city fringes, and the public transport is also packed.”

Eslake said both the state and federal governments have a role to play in easing the Victorian capital’s property and population crises. While he believes that stamp duty breaks for first-home buyers have merely pushed up property prices due to increased competition, he called on the Andrews government to boost housing supply and improve infrastructure.

Transport policy is housing policy and if there is good transport farther out in the suburbs, people are more likely to want to move there,” he said.