Laura and Latham Keen were faced with the same choice as many young couples in Sydney — move out or move up.
- The NSW Government is encouraging medium-density development by making it easier to subdivide blocks
- The Planning Minister sees more terrace-style housing as a way to address Sydney’s housing squeeze
- Some residents oppose the move, fearing the effects of “overdevelopment”
They could not afford a freestanding home close to their jobs in the CBD, and did not want to live in a high-rise with their 15-month-old son.
The answer for their growing family was a three-bedroom townhouse in Lane Cove, on Sydney’s lower north shore, 12 kilometres from the CBD.
“We spent six, seven months looking and we looked at just four townhouses in that time,” Mr Keen said.
“There just wasn’t many available.
“This ticked all the boxes and we jumped on it when we found it.”
Medium-density homes like the Keens’ have been dubbed Sydney’s “missing middle” by NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes, who believes more terrace-style housing is the solution to the city’s real estate squeeze.
While values have fallen by 14.5 per cent since their 2017 peak, the median price of a home in Australia’s biggest metropolis remains almost $900,000.
The spotlight is also on Sydney’s apartment developments after two buildings in the past seven months had to be evacuated when they began cracking.
“Apartment-style living is a great choice for some but it’s not necessarily for everyone,” Mr Stokes said.
“Detached homes in the ever-expanding suburbs are out of reach for many families.
“The beauty of terrace-style housing is that it’s low-rise, it’s human scale, it doesn’t overshadow everyone else.”
Rules relaxed to fast-track building
In a bid to begin catering for those extra residents, the Berejiklian Government last year introduced laws that make it easier to carve up existing blocks and build terraces, duplexes or manor houses.
The Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code means that style of dwelling can be built without lodging a development application (DA).
“I want us to have a choice and a spread of different housing,” Mr Stokes said.
“If we fail to meet the housing needs of our existing and future populations we will live in a city that is increasingly divided between the haves and the have-nots.”
The new rules mean a compliant development could be approved in about three weeks, compared to more than 70 days under a traditional DA process.
Developers would also not be required to notify neighbours.
But there is fierce opposition to the code.
About 50 councils across NSW applied for an exemption when it was first introduced, but those exemptions will be lifted on July 1.
Chris Johnson from Urban Taskforce, a not-for-profit group that represents prominent property developers and equity financiers in Australia, does not believe the code will provide enough new homes to house Sydney’s future residents.
“We need people living in more urban locations,” he said.
“Around railway stations, using public transport, walking to work, walking to shops — it’s a change of culture, a change of living.”
Fears overdevelopment could kill character
The president of the not-for-profit residents group Save Our Suburbs, Tony Recsei, is dedicated to fighting what he describes as “forced rezoning” and “overdevelopment” in Sydney.
Mr Recsei fears medium-density housing will destroy character in leafy areas.
“It’s going to completely change the whole character of the suburb,” he said.
“It’s going to have detrimental effects in terms of traffic density, parking and the characteristics of the houses themselves.
“It shouldn’t be a dictatorship … the community should decide.”
While terrace housing is an iconic feature of many suburbs in Sydney’s east and inner west, many of those homes date back to the 1800s.
Laura and Latham Keen are hoping the harbour city rediscovers its love of medium-density living.
“I grew up in this area and I would like to stay in this area,” Ms Keen said of Sydney’s lower north shore.
“It’s got the schools that I know, the places I know and the people I know.
“But with the price of housing now, I can’t afford a freestanding home.”
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