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Housing and Lifestyle: High Rise Living
NUMBER OF PEOPLE LIVING IN HIGH-RISE UNITS
The proportion of high-rise residents living in a unit rented from a state or territory housing authority steadily declined from 28% in 1981 to 23% (1986), 19% (1991), 14% (1996) and 10% (2001). This reflects the strong growth in high-rise private housing residents outstripping growth in high-rise public housing tenants (with the latter contracting in recent years), and changes in government housing policies over the period - from primarily the provision of low-cost public rental housing to the provision of additional forms of housing support such as rent assistance.
THE GEOGRAPHY OF HIGH-RISE LIVING
In 2001, more than half (68%) of all high-rise residents lived in New South Wales. Much smaller proportions lived in Victoria (14%), Queensland (11%), and Western Australia (4%), with 1% or less in each of the other states and territories. Between 1981 and 2001, the proportion of all high-rise residents who lived in New South Wales and Queensland increased, while the proportion living in Victoria and Western Australia declined.
In contrast to the overall distribution, half of all people living in public rental high-rise units in Australia in 2001 were living in Victoria (around 16,000 people), with a further 42% living in New South Wales. The proportion living in Victoria represents a decrease from 1981, when two-thirds of all public high-rise renters (approximately 24,000 people) were living in that state. The proportion of Victorian high-rise residents living in public rental housing fell from 76% in 1981 to 34% in 2001.
In each state and territory in 2001, the area with the highest concentration of residents living in high-rise housing was located within or adjoining its capital city's central business district, possibly reflecting the employment opportunities and lifestyle amenities in those areas. A similar pattern was evident twenty years earlier, in 1981.
In several states, the desirability of being close to water may have been a factor in the location of high-rise apartment blocks constructed over this period. In 2001, 42% of all high-rise residents in Australia lived in harbourside local government areas in Sydney (an increase from 35% in 1981), while a further 18% lived in other Sydney beachside or waterfront local government areas (up from 13% in 1981). Despite the decline in the proportion of high-rise residents in Victoria, there was an increase in the proportion of all high-rise residents in Australia living in local government areas with a Port Philip or Corio Bay shoreline (from 4% in 1981 to 6% in 2001). In Queensland, strong growth was evident in both the Gold Coast (from 2% to 4%) and suburbs along the Brisbane River (from 3% to 5%).
The socio-demographic profile of people living in high-rise units changed between 1981 and 2001. High-rise residents in 2001 were more likely to be aged between 25 years and 44 years than their counterparts in 1981 (40%, up from 31%), and, consistent with this, were more likely to be employed (55%, up from 49%). In turn, these shifts are consistent with the location of high-rise units in often revitalised inner-city areas close to jobs and city attractions.
However, the proportion of residents living in public rental high-rise units who were of prime working age remained constant over the period: approximately one quarter (23%) in both 1981 and 2001. There was a decrease in the proportion of children aged less than 15 years (from 27% to 19%) and an increase in the proportion of people aged 45 years and over (from 34% to 47%). At the same time, there was an increase in the proportions of high-rise residents in public rental units who were unemployed (from 5% to 8%) and not in the labour force (from 70% to 77%).
In 2001, half of all high-rise residents had been born overseas. This even mixture of Australian born and overseas born people in high-rise units differed sharply from that in the total Australian population, of whom less than one-quarter (23%) had been born overseas. In 2001, high-rise residents were more likely to have been born overseas than their counterparts in 1981. This change may be partly related to an increase during this period in the number of foreign citizens residing in Australia on temporary student visas. In 2001, 20% of overseas born high-rise residents aged 18 years and over were full-time students, up from 4% in 1981.
Consistent with the direction of changes in age distribution and labour force status, the income distribution of people living in high-rise housing also changed relative to that of the Australian population. In 1981, high-rise residents aged 15 years and over were slightly over represented in middle to higher income brackets. By 2001, they were strongly over represented in the highest income ranges. For example, 11% of high-rise residents aged 15 years and over received a gross weekly income of $1,500 or more in 2001, compared with just 4% of all Australians in this age group. Over representation in this income range was greater among high-rise residents born in Australia (13% of people aged 15 years and over) than among those born overseas (9%).
One striking difference between people living in separate houses and people living in high-rise units is that the former have a strong tendency to be home owners while the latter are predominantly renters. This difference was only slightly less pronounced in 2001 than it had been two decades earlier.
RENTS AND MORTGAGE REPAYMENTS
At the national level in 2001, households renting high-rise units paid a median weekly rent of $240 for their unit. This was considerably more than that paid by households renting separate houses ($150), and by households renting other higher density dwellings ($140). However, these differences are likely to reflect the greater concentration of high-rise apartment blocks in urban areas with high land values. When looking only at such areas, rents may be lower for high-rise units than for other forms of housing in surrounding streets. For example, in the harbourside local government area of Woollahra in Sydney's eastern suburbs in 2001, the median weekly rent was lower for high-rise units ($330) than for separate houses ($600) or other higher density dwellings ($353).
Similarly, across Australia in 2001, the median monthly mortgage repayment made by households purchasing their high-rise unit ($1,300) was larger than for households purchasing their separate house ($867) or another type of higher density dwelling ($945). Yet for any given local area, monthly mortgage repayments may be quite different to these nationwide averages. For example, in the inner Melbourne bayside local government area of Port Phillip City in 2001, high-rise households who were purchasing their unit made a median monthly mortgage repayment of $1,400. This was less than the median repayment made by households purchasing separate houses in the same area ($1,500), but more than for households purchasing other types of higher density housing ($1,300).
LIVING ARRANGEMENTS AND MOBILITY
The tendency for high-rise residents to rent rather than purchase their unit might suggest that high-rise living is for many a transitional form of housing. The living arrangements of high-rise residents might also indicate that this is so. In 2001, around half (52%) of people living in high-rise housing were either living alone or as a member of a couple family without children. Only 20% were living as part of a family containing children, compared with 59% of people living in separate houses.
SELECTED LIVING ARRANGEMENTS IN HIGH-RISE UNITS AND SEPARATE HOUSES - 2001
Greater residential transience among people living in high-rise housing is further suggested by the proportion who had been living elsewhere one year earlier (35%) and five years earlier (72%). Comparable proportions of people living in separate houses were considerably lower at 15% and 40% respectively.
HOUSING CAPACITY AND UTILISATION
High-rise units tend to be designed to accommodate fewer people than separate houses. In 2001, the vast majority (83%) of high-rise units had fewer than three bedrooms, with most (58%) having two bedrooms. One quarter of high-rise units were either one bedroom units or studio apartments with no separate bedroom. In contrast, only 13% of separate houses had fewer than three bedrooms. Over half (55%) were three bedroom dwellings, while a further 32% had four or more bedrooms.
Commensurate with their reduced housing capacity, the average number of residents per dwelling was lower in high-rise units (1.8) than in separate houses (2.8). On balance, the housing capacity of high-rise units tended to be more fully utilised, with spare bedrooms more likely to be found in separate houses. In 2001, there was an average of one person per bedroom in high-rise units compared with the equivalent of four persons for every five bedrooms in separate houses.
MOTOR VEHICLE OWNERSHIP AND USE
Concern about the congestion and pollution associated with car use has prompted transport policies that encourage less car use in favour of walking, bicycling and public transportation.(SEE ENDNOTE 1) Closer proximity to principal employment zones and major hubs of public transport networks may partly explain high-rise residents’ lower reliance on private motorised vehicles as a means of getting to work. Of high-rise residents who travelled to work on census day in August 2001, 54% travelled by car, taxi, truck, motorbike or motor scooter for all or part of the journey. This proportion was much higher among those living in separate houses (89%), who were less likely to walk, bicycle or ride public transport to work.
In 2001, 94% of households living in separate houses had at least one registered motorised vehicle, garaged or parked at or near their dwelling on census night, that they owned or used. In contrast, high-rise households were much less likely to have such a vehicle (71%). While some of this difference may be due to proximity to transport hubs and amenities, it may also be partly due to the limited availability of car parking space within the property boundaries of apartment blocks.
COMPUTER AND INTERNET USE
People living in high-rise units might be expected to have greater Internet access, given their socio-demographic profile, their predominantly inner city location, and the relative newness of privately owned high-rise units. In 2001, most high-rise residents (58%) had used the Internet in the week prior to the census, with over a third (39%) accessing it from home. Comparable proportions among people living in separate houses were lower at 39% and 30%. Despite these differences, people living in high-rise units were only slightly more likely than people living in separate houses to have used a personal computer at home in the week prior to the census (49% compared with 46%).
COMPUTER AND INTERNET USE(a) - 2001
1 O'Connor, K, Darby, A and Rapson, V, 'The great mistake: consolidation policy in Melbourne and Sydney', People and Place, vol.3, no. 3, 1995, pp. 40-45.