There is an argument to be made that mandating the minimum size of apartments is a step backward in the push for affordable housing.
A recent inquiry into apartment design standards was run by the Victorian Legislative Assembly Environment and Planning Committee. Among many issues discussed in the panels and presented in the report, the inquiry has pushed the idea of setting minimum sizes for all new apartments in the state. This push would follow the lead of New South Wales and Western Australia, along with some international cities such as Dublin and Auckland.
With the expected increase in population, particularly in families with children, there is anticipated to be an increased demand for larger apartments that are more liveable long term for the growing family demographic.
The inquiry also estimates that with the aging demographic, many older families downsizing and needing comfortable one or two bedroom homes. The Inquiry refers particularly to the NSW restrictions on building, where the minimum size of one, two, and three bedroom apartments in a new build is 50, 70, and 90 square meters respectively. At present, Victoria uses minimum standard sizing for living areas and bedrooms, but no restrictions on kitchens, dining areas, or overall apartment size.
The push for minimum sizes has occurred in both 2013 and 2016, being rejected on both occasions. The Housing Industry Association in 2016 stated that minimum sizes were not appropriate and that owners and occupiers have a wide range of needs and interests that cannot be recognised by specific size requirement of apartments. The HIA even suggested that the market would provide for the changing needs and wants of buyers; developers would build more larger format family apartments as the demand for them grows.
The argument for increased amenities in apartments such as more natural sunlight, better ventilation, and the obvious space issue would make most apartments more comfortable, but all these proposals come at a cost to the consumer. A survey completed following the 2016 proposal for minimum requirements found 80 per cent of respondents agreed an apartment with better amenities such as the above-mentioned is worth paying more for, and 76 per cent agreed that minimum size requirement should be implemented by the government.
The luxury of stating an apartment with better amenities is worth paying more for is only available to those who can pay more for accommodation. A study conducted in 2019 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found Australia was already suffering under a high rate of housing cost overburden, with 25 per cent of households spending more than 40 per cent of their income on rent. Increasing regulations and sizes of apartments would result in a cost pushed onto consumers, many of which are already overburdened by the cost of living.
While there is a place for larger-sized family apartments in the market, a minimum size and amenity requirement could result in many Australians being priced out of Melbourne’s already expensive housing market. Those who would be affected the most would be the lower and average income earners, and this push would make low-cost housing for students and young people become scarce.
With these measures, we may find in coming years the only truly affordable apartments are those in buildings built prior to the regulations with a general air of decrepitude and neglect, rather than a utopia of families living in lovely new builds.
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