Call 1300 729 095 |

Blog

How high-density development changes neighbourhoods

LAST year marked the first time that construction began on more higher-density housing in Australia than detached dwellings.

While many may claim this as a success for “compact city” policies, the negative consequences of this transition disproportionately affect lower-income and disadvantaged households.

This is partly because of what our apartment buildings are like to live in, as yesterday’s piece in this series showed.

But there are also aspects of neighbourhoods with lots of high-density development that compound the challenges lower-income and vulnerable residents face. In our research for Shelter NSW, we identify two key problems at the neighbourhood scale: gentrification and poor infrastructure.

Further reading: This is why apartment living is different for the poor

Australia’s market-led development model underpins the gentrification reshaping our cities. This gentrification hurts lower-income residents in two main ways:

  • it changes neighbourhoods for the residents who remain;
  • and it pushes people out of these neighbourhoods to more disadvantaged areas.

How high-density development changes neighbourhoods

Anyone who’s observed the changes in suburbs like RedfernRichmondNorthbridge and St Kilda will be familiar with gentrification.

Further reading: When a suburb’s turn for gentrification comes

The term originally referred to middle-class residents fixing up old homes in inner-city areas. Researchers now argue higher-density urban renewal is also driving gentrification in three main ways:

  1. Developments on inner-city “brownfields”: When old industrial areas in desirable inner-city areas get redeveloped (think Pyrmont or Docklands), they usually become high density with apartments designed for high-end buyers, as these offer developers the greatest returns. While not displacing anyone directly, this brownfield renewal can trigger gentrification in surrounding areas – by increasing house prices in these areas and changing their social and commercial nature. This “commercial gentrification” can price out existing lower-income residents and make them feel unwelcome.
  2. Renewed private high-density buildings: In New South Wales, new lawsallow termination of a strata scheme if 75% of the owners agree. Our modelling shows that, in high-value areas, gentrification will likely follow, with older, cheaper strata buildings redeveloped and resold at higher prices. This will likely displace lower-income renters, while lower-income owners may struggle to buy back in with the proceeds from their old apartment. This eventually reduces the socioeconomic diversity of these areas, so the remaining lower-income residents feel increasingly excluded.
  3. Renewed public housing estates: Higher-density renewal of public housing – like the Ivanhoe redevelopment – often adds private housing to make the project “feasible” (profitable) for the developers that undertake these redevelopments for governments. Governments justify this with claims that greater socio-economic diversity in these “mixed tenure” redevelopments benefits lower-income and vulnerable residents. Some researchers disagree.

If the addition of private housing reduces public housing stock, these residents will be displaced. Even if this doesn’t happen, mixed-tenure neighbourhoods aren’t necessarily better for lower-income residents.

The ways these neighbourhoods are designed, developed and managed are central to how well they work.

To benefit these residents, these neighbourhoods should be “tenure blind” so that it’s hard to tell which parts are public housing and which parts are private.

At the same time, support services for high-needs residents and programs to help develop a sense of shared community are essential. Otherwise, lower-income and vulnerable residents may feel excluded from the redeveloped area, even if they are not physically displaced.


Share this article