The findings presented in this report add to the weight of evidence that Australia’s housing system needs fundamental reform. The data detailed in this study presents a picture of key workers struggling to access appropriate and affordable housing in Sydney and Melbourne.

If not addressed, there is a risk that key workers who provide essential services but who earn low and moderate incomes will be unable to live in Australia’s most expensive cities, threatening ongoing capacity to sustain critical urban functions across the public and private sector. To address this risk, governments must support initiatives to increase the overall supply of housing that is affordable and suitable for low and moderate income workers, while recognising their aspirations for home ownership.

Key points:

  • There is no single definition of what constitutes a ‘key worker’. The term usually refers to employees in services that are essential to a city’s functioning but who earn low to moderate incomes. In cities and regions with high housing costs, this makes access to appropriate and affordable housing in reasonable proximity to work difficult for key workers.
  • All key worker jobs require physical presence—few key workers can ‘work from home’. Proximity to work is particularly important in healthcare, emergency services and some community and welfare support roles in order for workers to cover shifts, quickly respond to increases in service demand and attend emergency situations.
  • This study finds that Sydney and Melbourne’s teachers, nurses, community support workers, ambulance and emergency officers, delivery personnel and cleaners are struggling to find appropriate and affordable housing. Twenty per cent of key workers across Sydney and 17 per cent across Melbourne experience housing stress, with much higher rates in inner subregions.
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AHURI Final Report 355