Housing Affordability in Darwin, Australia: Still Dreadful

Darwin, capital of Australia’s Northern Territory is located next to the sea, across from the Indonesian archipelago. Darwin is also located next to a sea of developable land in one of the world’s least developed nations. Only 0.3% of Australia’s land is developed, approximately 1/10th the rate of the United States or Canada (in the agricultural belt) and even less compared to European nations.

Local Officials Report Erroneous Data: Yet, Darwin has severely unaffordable housing in our 6th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. Upon initial publication of this year’s report, local officials identified a mistake in the median house price figure that they had made available to the press (and that we had used). Rather than a median house price of $607,000 (US$510,000), they announced that the median house price in September 2009 was $499,000 (US$425,000). Officials also corrected the median house price figure for the previous quarter.

Housing Affordability: Still Dreadful” The result was that the Median Multiple (median house price divided by median household income) fell from 8.6 to 7.1. Affordable markets have a Median Multiple of 3.0 or below. As originally reported Darwin was the 4th least affordable market out of 272. We have revised our report to reflect the newly revised data. Darwin is now rated as 13th least affordable market, which is only marginally less dreadful.

Still As Unaffordable as New York or London: This was cause for celebration by the Chief Minister (Premier) of the Northern Territory, Paul Henderson, who noted that housing was less expensive in Darwin than in Tokyo. We do not know the Median Multiple for the Tokyo metropolitan area, because data is not readily available. However, Darwin is as expensive relative to incomes as New York and London.

Darwin: A Metropolitan Area in Housing Stress: At the median house price, the median household will pay half its income for the mortgage. This is well above the "mortgage stress" level of 30% as defined by government agencies. The overwhelming majority of Darwin’s future households will be faced with housing stress or could be life-long renters. The price for most residential building lots (blocks) in the new suburb of Johnston is approximately the same as the US median house price, even after adjusting for currency differences.

High Demand Markets are More Affordable: Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth each have added the equivalent of Darwin’s population annually during the 2000s and have exhibited far higher underlying demand for housing. Yet housing is affordable (Median Multiples under 3.0). If Darwin had the same price to income ratio as Atlanta, the median house price would be little more than $150,000.

Extinguishing the “Great Australian Dream:” It was not always this way. Before the widespread adoption of “urban consolidation” policies (also called growth management, smart growth or compact city policies), sufficient land was always available to build on across Australia. In the last two decades, however, urban consolidation policies have ravaged Australia’s household wealth, driving prices to the highest levels in the English speaking world.

Few places in the world are more unaffordable than Darwin. Few places have more land to grow. Heavy handed and stingy planning has extinguished the Great Australian Dream in Darwin.