The factor creating a new 'class system' in Australia

More than eight out of 10 Australians believe the soaring cost of housing is creating lasting social and economic divisions.

Polling for Fairfax Media's Political Persona Project found 35 per cent of respondents "strongly agreed" that the price of housing was "creating a class system in Australia" and another 47 per cent "agreed" with the statement. Only 9 per cent disagreed.

The results underscore growing voter anxiety about housing following an extended period of strong property price growth, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne.

Home ownership rates among younger Australians has fallen steadily in the past two decades, especially among those aged between 25 and 44 years.

Sydney University housing economist, Dr Judy Yates, said dynamics now at work in the housing market were likely to greatly deepen wealth inequality in Australia.

"Our cities may become bastions of privilege for the rich and powerful," she said.

After years watching house prices in Sydney keep climbing, Anthea Wager, 32, and her partner are considering moving to a regional centre where they'd have a shorter commute and be able to afford a house with a backyard for their two-year-old daughter.

"We've been keeping an eye on the market over the last couple of years and we're finding the more we save the higher house prices get," Ms Wager said.

"That's prompted a conversation as a family about whether staying in Sydney is the right choice for us."

Housing has almost drawn level with healthcare as the biggest concern among NSW residents, according to the latest Ipsos Issues Monitor, which asks respondents to select the three most important issues facing the state. A record 41 per cent of people in NSW now rate housing as one of the most important challenges confronting the community, up from 29 per cent in 2013.

The proportion of NSW residents who nominated housing as one of the top issues facing NSW rose sharply in mid-2015. The share has continued to build ever since and has been at an all-time high for the past two quarters. In Victoria the share of people identifying housing as a key concern has climbed to a five-year high of 28 per cent.

Sydney's median house price jumped 10 per cent in 2016 to $1.124 million, Domain Group figures show. The city's median house price has risen by almost 70 per cent - or $450,000 -in the past four years.

Sydney is also the toughest city in the nation for renters, with key rental indicators showing affordability at "crisis levels" across the metropolitan area.

The survey conduced for Fairfax's Political Persona Project put dozens of hot-button issues put to a representative sample of voters. A statement that "the price of housing is creating a class system in Australia" was one of the most agreed-upon propositions by the representative sample of 2600 voters.

The project is one of the most comprehensive attempts ever made to profile different types of Australians based on their lifestyles, social values and politics. It identified seven distinctive political tribes that share similar characteristics.

Ms Wager said she was now looking for housing in Orange, where the family could get a three-bedroom house with a large backyard for about $400,000.

"That's compared to a two-bedroom below ours in Hornsby that doesn't come with any land and recently sold for $680,000," she said.

But the couple must also weigh-up employment opportunities. Ms Wager works as an HR professional in North Sydney and thinks she'd be able to get a similar role in Orange, but her partner, who works in software sales, would be less likely to find a comparable job.

SMH/11 February 2017

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