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Sustainability making for unaffordability

By Elizabeth Crouch - posted Tuesday, 20 September 2005

There are two highly important words to be considered when discussing the fate of Australia’s cities: affordability and sustainability.

Affordability and sustainability are crucial to the Australian way of life and the health and happiness of future generations. Both are equally important. Governments should never overlook one or the other. Unfortunately this is not always the case.

The Sustainable Cities Report, produced by the House of Representatives Environment Committee, has relegated sustainability’s partner, affordability, to a few cursory remarks, a tidbit here and there.


An additional $3,000 assistance package proposed for first home-buyers is a fraction of what the vast array of energy efficiency regulations already cost them - and, at the same time, the report calls for even more stringent requirements on residential building. While the government and the Greens argue over the relative merits of water recycling or desalination, tens of thousands of young people remain locked out of the housing market, unable to even contemplate the cost of taking on a mortgage.

The report tells us how much waste we generate each year, the cost of obesity to the economy and the fact that our water consumption is the highest per capita in the world. It wants us to use more public transport and calls for national leadership on sustainability. These are all important issues which deserve our attention.

But what of necessary infrastructure, the cost of which is increasingly being borne largely by new home buyers? Where is the mechanism to review and evaluate the crippling amount of regulation and compliance heaped on housing by all levels of government? Independent analysis states that Victorian energy efficiency requirements alone add six per cent, or up to $14,000 to the cost of a new home, while regulators maintain it is just 1.7 per cent. This yawning discrepancy clearly deserves investigation.

Sustainability is a hot topic, with governments tapping into public sentiment about the environment. In the rush to display their "green" credentials, affordability is often the casualty. Ratcheting up environmental regulation without due regard to the costs and benefits of such measures does a great disservice to the many Australians who aspire to home ownership.

American public policy consultant Wendell Cox cautions that the Great Australian Dream is under threat with his study of affordability issues, both in the United States and Australia.

"Equity in houses represents nearly one half of overall assets in the household sector," he said. "Australia’s rising home ownership has been a principal factor in the tripling of real per capita incomes since World War II. Take home ownership away and there will be a weaker economy, with fewer jobs and a future looking more grim than the past. That would be a first for Australia, or for any high-income world nation – and for no reason."


Serious sustainability measures require serious solutions. Tackling the big polluters, such as electricity generators, the various transport modes and the use of energy fuels in the manufacturing and other industries, must be a priority.

The minimal contribution of housing to greenhouse gas emissions should drive an appropriate regulatory response, not one that adds significant cost without generating significant environmental benefit.

The housing industry is driving a strong environmental agenda that is underpinned by affordability. HIA's GreenSmart program educates builders, building professionals, manufacturers and suppliers on the benefits of adopting more sustainable practices. There are now thousands of GreenSmart professionals throughout Australia who deliver sustainable housing solutions with an eye to affordability.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Crouch is the Housing Industry Association’s senior executive director – Industry Policy.

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