New building and building solutions are needed to tackle the rental crisis

According to urban research experts, better design, improved building practices and new rental models could mitigate the risk of rental stress.

With 46% of tenants already considered to be in rental stress according to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing, RMIT University researchers said builders and developers could help alleviate the housing affordability crisis.

Researcher Dr Louise Dorignon said there are many new options to help reduce the running costs of homes and make them cheaper to build.

“Better design and more sustainable construction methods can produce more durable, energy-efficient homes that have the potential to reduce gas and electricity costs for households,” she said.

“This is particularly true for apartments, which are currently of varying quality and which overall need to be more sustainable and affordable to meet the needs of current and future residents.

“Alternative and innovative ways of producing housing, including mid-rise mass timber, and incorporating shared amenity quarters, could help create more livable and, in the long run, more affordable apartment typologies for households.

“One model is Passivhaus, which aims to produce new net-zero housing and retrofit existing housing for decarbonization while providing maximum thermal comfort for residents.”

According to CoreLogic, tight vacancy rates have seen rents rise 9.8% over the past 12 months, adding pressure on tenants and leading many to fall into serious tenancy stress.

Dr Dorignon said that in addition to rising interest rates, cost of living pressures were also hurting tenants.

“Households in the private rental sector will likely be hit by rent increases if interest rates continue to rise,” Dr Dorignon said.

“For households who are already preoccupied with spending large amounts relative to their budget, this risks exposing them to housing affordability stress.”

Dr Dorignon said low-income private tenants had one of the least protected housing securities and regularly faced potential rent increases and the threat of eviction.

She believes tenants are also unable to reduce day-to-day costs because they are unable to make changes or upgrades to their rental properties.

“It’s also often the same households that lack the funds to thermally upgrade their homes to reduce their electricity and gas bills,” she said.

Dr Dorignon said using more efficient materials such as wood and focusing on more compact designs introduces more options to meet future demand.

“Despite the shortages the construction sector is currently facing and a few other issues (debates around its carbon accounting, appropriate fire regulations), apartments with lighter structures have a key role to play in an evolution towards the decarbonisation of Australian housing,” she says.

“They can provide multiple benefits in terms of energy efficiency and livability for residents.”

Dr Dorignon said improved construction materials and techniques did not necessarily mean higher costs for builders and developers.

“A lot of research shows that in the medium term, the use of low-carbon materials and/or construction methodologies that maximize resource efficiency (such as design for fabrication and assembly, DfMA) reduce construction costs,” she said.

“Together, digital technologies can improve communication and coordination across supply chains, reduce waste, and ultimately increase housing affordability.”

As part of her research with the AHURI survey on housing in a circular economy, led by Professor Ralph Horne, Dr Dorignon said she focused on ensuring buildings are part of the solution rather than part of the solution. contribute to the problem.

Senior researcher at RMIT, Dr Megan Nethercote said another solution to help ease the rental crisis was to continue to change the way new housing projects are developed by focusing on build-to-let.

“Australia is seeing a surge in investment in rental housing construction, with Melbourne at the epicenter of a construction boom in large, purpose-built rental housing for long-term operation by business owners. under unified ownership,” she said.

“Building to let can provide answers for tenants by increasing the supply of affordable, market-priced rents and providing tenants with better security of tenure.”