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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2004  
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Contents >> Housing >> High rise living

Housing and Lifestyle: High Rise Living

Half (52%) of all people living in four or more storey apartment blocks in 2001 were living alone or in a couple family without children.

High-rise living has traditionally been very uncommon in Australia, and in 2001 accounted for only 2% of people living in private dwellings. However, over recent decades the number of people living in high-rise housing has increased at a faster rate than the total population.

Living in separate houses in suburbs remains the preference of people with children, partly due to the capacity of such housing to accommodate growing families and the accessibility of traditional play spaces. However, changing trends in family structures and lifestyles mean that more people are living in other kinds of household arrangements and looking for alternative housing options. High-rise apartment blocks - often located close to employment, shops, restaurants, and public amenities - offer a lifestyle attractive to many Australians.

TRENDS BETWEEN 1981 AND 2001

In 1981, separate housing was by far the predominant form of housing in Australia. Of people living in private dwellings, 86% were living in a separate house. Two decades later, while this proportion was still very high, it was a little lower, at 83%. Offsetting this have been increases in the proportions living in medium density housing (e.g. duplexes and terrace houses), and in high density housing (e.g. unit developments and apartment blocks). Within this high density sector, the number of people living in high-rise units rose from approximately 129,000 in 1981 to around 334,000 in 2001, representing an increase from roughly 1% to 2% of people living in private dwellings.


NUMBER OF PEOPLE LIVING IN HIGH-RISE UNITS
GRAPH - 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.

CONCEPTS AND DATA COLLECTION

Data in this article are drawn from Censuses of Population and Housing conducted by the ABS between 1981 and 2001.

Separate houses are dwellings that stand alone in their own grounds and are separated from other dwellings by at least half a metre. A separate house may have a flat attached to it, such as a granny flat or converted garage. For practical reasons, analysis of people living in separate houses in this article is restricted to people who were considered to have spent census night in a separate house in which they usually lived. Overseas visitors and other people who spent census night in a separate house in which they did not usually live have been excluded. Also excluded are people who usually lived in a separate house in Australia but who were absent from that separate house on census night.

In this article, high-rise units are defined as residential units in apartment blocks of four or more storeys. High-rise units usually do not have their own private grounds and usually share common entrance foyers and/or stairwells. For practical reasons, analysis of people living in high-rise units in this article is restricted to people who were considered to have spent census night in a high-rise unit in which they usually lived. Overseas visitors and other people who spent census night in a high-rise unit in which they did not usually live have been excluded. Also excluded are people who usually lived in a high-rise unit in Australia but who were absent from that unit on census night.

For the 2001 census, changes to classification procedures were introduced to count more completely people and households living in the mixed use apartment blocks that were being built from the early to mid-1990s. As a result, probable undercounting in the 1996 census was rectified. Further, an imputation program is used to estimate the number of residents in households with whom census collectors were unable to make contact. Post 2001 census analysis has indicated a probable slight overestimation of persons in high-rise and other dwellings in the census results.

To maximise the comparability of data between censuses, and between dwelling types, non-response to census questions has generally been apportioned to valid question responses on a pro-rata basis prior to the calculation of numerical estimates, percentage distributions and averages.

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%).


GEOGRAPHIC DISTRIBUTION OF PEOPLE LIVING IN HIGH-RISE UNITS
1981
2001
State or territory
%
%

New South Wales
60
68
Victoria
24
14
Queensland
6
11
South Australia
1
1
Western Australia
7
4
Tasmania
1
0
Northern Territory
0
1
Australian Capital Territory
1
1
Australia
100
100
'000
'000

Australia
129
334

Source: ABS 1981 and 2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.

SELECTED CHARACTERISTICS OF PEOPLE LIVING IN HIGH-RISE UNITS AND SEPARATE HOUSES
High-rise units
Separate houses
1981
2001
1981
2001
%
%
%
%

Age group of residents
Less than 15 years
14
10
27
23
15-24 years
18
17
16
13
25-44 years
31
40
29
29
45-64 years
21
19
20
24
65 years and over
17
13
8
11
Labour force status of residents(a)
Employed
49
55
43
46
Unemployed
4
5
2
3
Not in the labour force
47
40
55
50
Dwelling tenure
Owned or being purchased
30
34
80
79
Rented from a state/territory housing authority
28
10
4
3
Rented from another landlord
41
54
12
16
Other
2
2
4
2
Country of birth
Australia
58
50
81
79
Overseas
42
50
19
21
All residents
100
100
100
100
'000
'000
'000
'000

All residents
129
334
11,372
14,609

(a) As a proportion of those aged 15 years and over.

Source: ABS 1981 and 2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.


SOCIO-DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS

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

GRAPH - 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.

RESIDENTIAL MOBILITY AND METHODS OF TRAVEL TO WORK - 2001
People living in high-rise units
People living in separate houses
%
%

Lived at different address one year earlier(a)
35
15
Lived at different address five years earlier(b)
72
40
Travelled to work by private motorised vehicle(c)(d)
54.0
89.0
Used public transport to get to work(d)(e)
32
9
Walked only or bicycled only to work(d)
15
4

(a) As a proportion of those aged one year and over.
(b) As a proportion of those aged five years and over.
(c) By car, taxi, truck, motorbike or motor scooter for all or part of the journey.
(d) As a proportion of those aged 15 years and over who travelled to work on census day.
(e) By train, bus, ferry, tram or light rail for all or part of the journey.

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


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.

HOUSING CAPACITY AND UTILISATION, AND PRIVATE MOTOR VEHICLE OWNERSHIP - 2001
High-rise units
Separate
houses
no.
no.

Average number of people per dwelling
1.8
2.8
Average number of people per bedroom
1.0
0.8
Average number of motorised vehicles(a) per dwelling
1.1
1.9
Average number of motorised vehicles(a) per person aged 17 years and over
0.7
1.0
Number of bedrooms
%
%
Less than two(b)
25
1
Two
58
12
Three
16
55
More than three
1
32
Total
100
100
'000
'000

Total number of dwellings(c)
182
5,285

(a) Registered vehicles owned or used by dwelling residents which were garaged at their dwelling or parked nearby on census night. Included are motorbikes and motor scooters, and vans and company vehicles kept at home.
(b) Includes studio apartments and bedsitters.
(c) Private dwellings occupied by at least one usual resident on census night.

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


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

GRAPH - COMPUTER AND INTERNET USE(a) - 2001


ENDNOTES

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.

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