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  • Samantha Reece

Who lives in high density housing?

Population increases, high return on investment and compact city planning have been cited as the key reasons higher density housing has continued to boom in Australia.

The growth in this sector can be seen in ABS building approvals data which shows that in Sydney, approvals for apartments, townhouses and units have long exceeded detached dwelling approvals. The same trend can also be witnessed in Melbourne.

Recently the City Futures Research Centre, run out of UNSW’s Sydney campus, has revealed for the first time details of a study investigating the types of people who live in higher density housing across key Sydney and Melbourne suburbs.

The data, which was drawn from information contained in the 2016 ABS census, shows those who choose to live in strata communities can be categorised into six different classifications.

Across both markets, the most popular group (accounting for 60 per cent of Melbourne strata dwellers and 50 per cent of Sydney strata dwellers) were referred to as the ‘economically engaged’. They can be characterised by a working-age population, higher incomes, full-time employment, and professional/technical and service/sales occupations.

The study found there are more people of predominantly English-speaking nationalities such as UK & Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, USA and Canada, and most households are either mortgage-holders or private renters.

Sydney’s most populous second group were referred to as the ‘young, un(der)employed and over-crowded’. This group is characterised by people aged 15-24, many from North-East and South-East Asian backgrounds.

The study found there is an overrepresentation of group households within this cohort and some degree of overcrowding, suggesting that room-sharing may be common. Many in this group, which accounts for around 10 per cent of Sydney strata residents) are not in full-time work but rather working part-time or unemployed or not in the labour force.

This differed from Melbourne where the second largest group referred to ‘tertiary students and low-income workers’. This group, which accounted for around 11 per cent of Melbourne strata residents, is made up of tertiary students but many also with low paying jobs.

Given the prevalence of Asian backgrounds and recency of migration to Australia, it can be assumed that many are international students, the study noted.

“This is a low-income cohort, with many part-time employed, unemployed, or not in the labour force. There is a high incidence of group households and some overcrowding.” The third largest group of Sydney strata residents were referred to as ‘battler and migrant families’.

The research showed this group is characterised by low to moderate-income households of families with children under 15. Accounting for around 8 per cent of strata residents across the New South Wales capital, a substantial proportion are migrants from South and Central Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East.

Again, it was a different story in Melbourne where ‘public housing families and older tenants’ made up the third highest number of strata residents.

Consisting of both families with children under 15 and older (over 65) persons, most of whom are on low incomes and living in public housing, with many migrants from a wide variety of countries.

This component accounted for 10% of those who lived in strata in the Victorian capital. “Its larger presence reflects the larger number of high-rise public housing estates in Melbourne compared to Sydney,” the study found.

‘Older public housing tenants’ and ‘established owners and downsizers’ completed the top five of Sydney strata residents, accounting for 6 per cent and 3 per cent respectively.

The groups referred to as ‘established owners and downsizers’ and ‘multi-family households’ rounded out Melbourne’s most populous strata resident group, accounting for 5 per cent and 3 per cent respectively.

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