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Increasing number of renters but Sydney’s density among the best

New research shows that while the majority of people in Sydney own their own home, more than 40 per cent of those living in greater Sydney now rent.

Sydney’s growing band of tenants are proving themselves a formidable force when it comes to electoral sway, with a new report showing more than 40 per cent of neighbourhoods across the greater city area now have a majority of renters.

The ‘Seeing the City’ report, released earlier this month by independent think tank the Committee for Sydney (CfS), showed the neighbourhoods with the highest share of renters in Sydney were in the satellite suburbs of Parramatta-Rosehill and Warwick Farm – at 70 per cent and 67 per cent respectively.

But inner-city neighbourhoods also proved popular with seven of them in the top 10 including Redfern-Chippendale (66 per cent), Potts Point-Woolloomooloo (65 per cent), Sydney-Haymarket-The Rocks (64.5 per cent), Surry Hills (64 per cent), Pyrmont-Ultimo (64 per cent), Waterloo-Beckonsfield (63 per cent) and Newtown-Camperdown-Darlington 62 per cent.The report noted that although most suburbs in Sydney have a mixture of tenure typologies (with 62 per cent of Sydneysiders owning their home outright or with a mortgage), the proportion of the population that is renting is increasing. The data coincides with Census figures which show that between 2006 and 2016 the number of renters across Sydney increased from just under 30 per cent to 34 per cent.

The findings were just one of a host of surprising data contained in the report which the lobby group – chaired by Michael Rose AM and Financial Services Council CEO Sally Loane – has produced with the express aim of promoting a deeper understanding of key trends shaping the city.

The report produced by the committee – which includes heavy hitters such as KPMG NSW chairman Martin Blake, Minter Ellison partner Virgina Briggs and Smart Cities principal advisor Dorte Ekelund – also showed Sydney’s most economically dynamic regions, made up of those suburbs with the highest proportion of high-value knowledge jobs and high job density – coincide with high rates of renting.

The CfS report found that across Greater Sydney, there are various rental trends at play. For instance, in the inner-city Newtown-Camperdown-Darlington area, 62% of all dwellings are rented, an increase from 57% in 2011. The median rent in this area is $500 per week, which is higher than the Greater Sydney median rent of $450 per week.

“Results in these and other similar areas suggest that wealthier professionals are increasingly opting to rent in places with good access to jobs, transport and services, as opposed to buying homes in locations with less amenity or connectivity to jobs.

“The rise of the wealthy renter mirrors a similar trend in the US, where within cities of more than a million residents a growing number of renting households are earning more than 120 per cent of median income,” the report noted.

Conversely, there are also remain many people who rent out of necessity and not choice.

“There is a growing proportion of rental properties in Sydney’s fringe suburbs which act to service lower income renters. These groups have been pushed away from inner city areas as wealthier tenants enter the rental market and use their purchasing power.”

The committee’s research into the city’s density also produced some interesting finds with CfS investigations revealing that Sydney is substantially less dense than most other comparable cities globally, both in terms of the average density across the city-region and in terms of the highest density parts of the city.

City wide, Sydney boasts a population density of 2,800 people per square kilometre (p/km2), which puts it marginally ahead of Los Angeles on 2,600 p/km2.5. By comparison London and Paris hold an average of 5,200 p/km2, while Munich and Barcelona hold averages of 4,200 and 6,400 p/km2 respectively.

The report said that although Sydney possesses a more recently developed urban form than its European counterparts, other ‘new world cities’ like Toronto and New York also hold higher densities at 3,600 and 3,400 p/km2 respectively. While countries across Asia – including Seoul, Singapore and Hong Kong – had opted for a model of substantially higher density, holding averages of 8,800, 11,400 and 20,400 p/km2 respectively, these higher densities were unlikely to be embraced within Australia, the report said.

For most cities, the density of the urban core will be substantially higher than that of the surrounding suburbs, often reflecting a desire by policy makers to house a substantial portion of a city’s population in close proximity to their employment. But even on this metric, Sydney ranks well below its global peers, with a peak density of just 14,500 p/km2. By contrast, London, Paris and Barcelona hold peak densities of 25,500, 45,200 and 26,800 p/km2 respectively, while Los Angeles, Toronto and New York hold scores of 23,700, 26,400 and 56,300 p/km2, the report stated.

“Political conversations about density often conjure up images of cities like Seoul and Hong Kong, each with peak densities above 100,000 p/km2, though the truth is that Sydney’s peak density remains well below that of many European and American cities. Even if the city were to double the size of the population held within each suburb, the city would still hold density scores far below those of cities such as Paris and New York.’

From a geographical point of view, Sydney’s density is concentrated in the inner city and along the coast. More recently, areas of higher density have emerged around Sydney’s suburbs, including in Parramatta, along the Bankstown-Sydenham rail link, and the suburbs surrounding Kogarah and Bankstown.

Other areas were notable for their surprising lack of density given their proximity to rail and employment hubs, including the suburbs to the east of Macquarie Park and along the rail line extending from Chatswood through to Wahroonga.

Conversely, some areas are absorbing higher densities despite having less proximity to rail or employment hubs, including the suburbs to the immediate north-west of Liverpool.

“While Liverpool has been designated as one of the GSC’s three ‘cluster cities’ which make up the Western Parkland City, it is notable that its partner cities of Campbelltown and Penrith still retain relatively low densities.

With the population of greater Sydney expected to double in the next 40 years, Sydney’s varying density is likely to be increasingly scrutinised, the report suggested. The committee noted the pressure is on to not only accommodate a larger population but to ensure that Greater Sydney is a more “socially just and inclusive city”.

“If we are to build a liveable and productive Sydney for eight million, it cannot be based on the sprawl model of development – business as usual will simply not be able to deliver a dynamic and sustainable Sydney.”

Seeking to serve as a reminder to policy makers and commentators on Sydney of the need to rebalance Sydney between east and west; between the dense, public transport and job rich areas of the city, and those areas missing out on the opportunities of densification and vibrancy, the committee says that the maps produced as part of the report tell the story of a big city undergoing extensive and speedy change that public institutions, governments, the private sector, and the community are attempting to understand and shape.

“While the opportunity exists to make Sydney a better city as we become a bigger city… Too often, public policy and investment is attempted without deep and timely evidence or a grasp of the key trends shaping Sydney.”

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