Housing affordability solved – Blame the avocados (oh, and hipsters)

 

 

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As an update in The Australian stated today, ‘you’d have to be living under a rock’ to have missed the uproar that an article in its Weekend Magazine has created this week. Bernard Salt, demographer and social commentator, has made the startling (to some) link between a struggle for people in their twenties and thirties to break into the housing market, and the consumption of avocados. And many people have become worked up about this. But instead, I thought I’d look into the issue further (and supplement my exploration with some evidence – because I’m a bit crazy like that). Is the avocado, formerly scorned as a source of weight gain, now responsible for the devastation of the Australian Dream for an entire generation? Or should this article be taken with a grain of salt? These are the things I wish I could ask Bernard Salt….

 

It’s been a little while since I read your articles but this weekend, I was fortunate to read two in a row. I KNOW – I am so fortunate! I learnt a lot, including your fascination with ‘hipsters’, your views on the opportunities that exist in the western suburbs (where ‘hipsters’ have now been found – you have on good authority) and, of course, the conclusions you’ve reached (or, maybe not you, exactly, but people ‘LIKE’ you, who moralise) about why ‘young people these days’ can’t afford to break into the housing market (which seems a little inconsistent with your views on the western suburbs, but let’s put that to one side for the moment).

I’m more interested in the insight you provided to us about housing affordability, in your Weekend Australian article ‘Moralisers, we need you’. It’s received a fair bit of attention, hasn’t it? (which no doubt made you and The Australian very happy – no such thing as bad news, hey?)

Most specifically, I’m interested in your views of why you (and again, if not ‘you’, then people ‘LIKE’ you) have concluded that ‘young people’ can’t manage to get their act together and purchase a home. It’s something I’m interested in too. And I saw you were speaking to me – an over 40 year old home owner, who has a tendency to moralise at times. Oh, how exciting! A new society I could join! So I read your article (of course, I read it on line before it was pay-walled – but I knew you’d support my money saving measures because people of our generation aren’t reckless with our money, are we?)  And I have to admit, I was taken aback.

Like you (and, yes, people like you), I too share a moralistic view on housing. I think that, in a country like Australia, with the wealth that exists, all people should have access to reasonably affordable housing which also provides them with reasonable access to jobs and services. Because, as we both know, one of the strongest components of enabling people to feel at home, to connect and contribute to society (including economically), is to have secure housing. But a lot of people don’t currently have this at the moment, do they? In fact, inequality is becoming more and more prevalent in Australia, and a key factor contributing to inequality and insecurity is lack of access to home ownership. And – while not everyone wants to own a home, for those who do, or seek access to secure rental accommodation that they can sustain, not being able to find this is really debilitating.

Housing affordability is a topic I’d planned to write about, so I am going to bounce off your piece. I’m really grateful you wrote when you did, because I would have written this very differently. For one thing, I would have got my facts all WRONG!!! You see, all this time, I’d thought that the problems with housing affordability for ‘young people’ – you know, people younger than us – had to do with factors like:

  • Changing employment – the fact that so many jobs have become part time, casualised, or have remained on low or static levels (source:)
  • Housing prices – which have increased well beyond wages growth. Well beyond any price rises we had to contend with – yes, it’s changed in a generation. (source🙂
  • The employment structure of many Australian cities – with jobs increasingly focused on central and inner city locations. That’s happened for a range of reasons, as we’ve moved away from manufacturing and towards a service and knowledge based economy, and is influenced a lot by the need for agglomeration in these businesses. I know you know this by maybe others don’t (Source:)Anyway, the point is that consolidating job opportunities within an increasingly smaller area makes the location of housing that a) doesn’t cost a huge amount in rent or to buy or b) mean an unmanageable commute (which can also be costly, as well as time consuming) more challenging – and it’s become worse over the past twenty years.
  • Purchasing power – the increased focus on property as secure investment and the tax incentives which accompany them, and therefore competition for first home owners by people or companies holding multiple properties, is impacting the structure of our society.

But no. It seems I might have been wrong. Because you’d pointed to a factor I hadn’t even considered. Namely, the role of ‘avocados’ in preventing people from accessing the housing market.

 

The problem with avocados

I thought we’d moved on from the days when avocados were seen as bad.

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But I was mistaken.

As you quite rightly noted, when you were in yet another of those ‘hipster’ places (a cafe this time), bemoaning how uncomfortable the milk crate seats are for us oldies (at least, those of us over 50 – they’re fine for me, by the way), and how unfriendly they with their loud music and their bad lighting, you pinpointed the key issue:

“I have seen young people order smashed avocado with crumbled feta on five-grain toasted bread at $22 a pop and more,” you wrote. 

“I can afford to eat this for lunch because I am middle-aged and have raised my family. But how can young people afford to eat like this?

“Twenty-two dollars several times a week could go towards a deposit on a house.”

Nailed it. There it is. The great avocado scandal. Clearly the reason young people cannot buy a house today.

So I vote we encourage the young people to stop eating at these establishments (of course, this will mean many of them will go out of business, leaving many of the employees out of work – have you noticed that most of them are staffed by young hipsters? Of course – that wouldn’t have escaped your notice), and go back to the way we used to eat.

After all, we never had this problem with Eggs Benedict for brunch in the 1990s, now, did we?

Right of response

I was pleased to see, today, that you intend to respond to the backlash you received in your column in this weekend’s Weekend Australian Magazine. And that you are ‘pleased to have inspired such debate, and hopes action can come out of it to spark better affordability in the housing market for young people’.

As you say, somewhat optimistically perhaps, “Australia works better when everyone believes they have the opportunity to buy a house if they want to.”
I’m hoping you will answer this question, as part of your response:

  • Why are so many of the homeless in Melbourne and other cities aged 55 and over?
  • Why are so many older people, especially single women, vulnerable to housing loss due to lack of home ownership?

Have they, like the young people, been eating too many smashed avocados? Or do we need to find another reason – for instance, that ‘people were discouraged from saving for retirement by unaffordable house prices, which only meant they were more vulnerable to adversity such as sudden redundancy or the end of a relationship‘, as the author of the above report states.

 

Could there be more to lack of access to home ownership than too many smashed avocado brunches? Could it possibly be more complex than Mr Salt portrays?

And should social commentators, with a background and credibility based on years of evidence based research, be less flippant and dismissive about issues which cause so many people so much stress? Where does their responsibility lie?

 

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23 thoughts on “Housing affordability solved – Blame the avocados (oh, and hipsters)

      1. Yes, it’s a good ploy to avoid the issue (of course, Bernard wasn’t, himself. He was speaking on behalf of people who are like him who might moralise – cleverly avoiding his own opinions). And the smashed avo does look good, doesn’t it? We’ll have to make it, of course! (we’re of a generation who saves, you see, and never, never, NEVER eats out. Not like ‘those young people today’. Ahem)

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    1. I kind of like facts when it involves something that impacts a whole generation – I dunno, it seems to warrant it 🙂

      We’re similar to you – we bought in 2002. Tempting to consider something bigger but a) we don’t REALLY need it (although it would be nice) and b) the market’s just run away from us since then – upgrading would be really too hard. So breaking into it without equity? I don’t know how that could be possible.

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  1. Avocado and homelessness. There’s a correlation for you! Ridiculous. We will likely never own a home- we are literally locked out. If I wanna drown my sorrows in avocado toast, I think that’s pretty reasonable. That Salt guy is a heartless, ignorant twit!

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    1. I’m sorry to hear that, Amy and I agree – eat all the avocados, spread over whatever type of bread and whatever else you want on it. Given the challenges (which so many people have put forward in response), cutting back on meals is unlikely to have much impact (unless it was every meal at exorbitant prices, and even still).

      The thing is, he’s not ignorant – he knows full well that there are much more significant factors at play (which no doubt we’ll hear about) and then he’ll be able to pat himself on the back for getting the issue more prominently on the agenda. I suspect he’s been playing the media, and it’s paid off, in terms of increasing profile (which he doesn’t really need – he’s already the one the media turns to on these issues – especially at the moment, when most academics, specialists in housing issues, etc, are in Ecuador, trying to get broad agreement on progress for improved urban living conditions which I think is a coincident, but convenient, nonetheless). But there are ways to raise the profile – I’m not sure this is the best way to do so …

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    1. And a wise decision you made too. When do you move in (clearly you were able to make an offer on the spot?) It’s so simple when it’s spelt out, isn’t it?

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  2. As the mother of some up and coming hipsters, I think people who have secure jobs in careers they’ve built up over decades need to be very careful passing judgement on how young people live their lives. As you say Helen, the current economy that our kids are trying to get a foothold in is completely different to the one many of us are still working in. We have a dual economy going on – the old and the new. It’s only once you leave the old economy that you can appreciate the reality of the new one…

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    1. Exactly (and yes, you would be experiencing that too – very brave what you’re doing so well!). I’m not sure what his own kids think – they might not be in the situation of having any difficulty scraping a deposit together, who knows – but it definitely is less straight forward than it was even 10 years ago.

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  3. Great piece Helen, and very well articulated. I’m not even part of that demographic but it made me angry. More pointless generation-bashing that completely overlooks the grim reality of young people trying to enter an increasingly impossible property market. He could not have been further from the mark.

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    1. Hits his demographic though (The Australian editor would be rubbing his (I’m guessing) hands in glee. The shame is that Bernard Salt – or at least, KPMG (where he’s the lead partner in the social / demographic / future projections space) provides a lot of advice to a lot of firms and government. And so his words have impact. I wish he could have chosen them with sensitivity, rather than to drum up an uproar and publicity.

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  4. That is one of my favourite treat breakfasts and I don’t want to be made to feel bad about it (even though I am clearly in the age and stage category of the author himself!). It is a food match made in heaven.

    He could also have picked on the $4 we drop every time we buy take away coffee. My parents NEVER did that. If we ever went out, they always said self righteously at the end of the meal ‘we can make a Nescafé when we get home’. Perhaps we were all richer when we hadn’t learned to appreciate good coffee.

    Talking of which, we have just bought a coffee machine (Chris’ birthday present) so now we have NO justification to buy coffee anymore! But the same cannot be said for avocado and fetta on seeded toast.

    >

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    1. It absolutely is a great combination! (and I doubt there are that many people who go out for $22 breakfasts several times a week, anyway – so why not savour it when you can?). Much better than coffee, in my opinion – but I know how much you two love it, so its great to hear about the coffee machine. Al can give you a demo on his recycling of the pods with the higher quality coffee beans too next time you’re over – he swears by the taste, plus it’s cheaper, and less waste (what perfect middle aged people we make! Clearly we’d romp in those home purchases 🙂 )

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  5. This is a great post Helen! Thought provoking too. My husband and I are definitely not hipsters (I tried to be once, but the pants didn’t suit me). Neither of us eat avocados and we do have a mortgage, however I don’t believe these two facts are related. It’s probably more to do with the fact that we life in a regional/rural area where housing is slightly less unaffordable, and also maybe because prior to having kids we both had stable, long term employment.

    Or maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe it really does all come down to the avocados.

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  6. Triple J has been talking about this quite a bit this week. The stats don’t add up – young people actualy spend less on food than previous years and the deposit needed for a house isn’t at all comparative with advo savings. It may have been tongue in cheek, but it’s an extremely serious issue that doesn’t need to be derided by someone in a position of privilege.

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    1. That’s what I think – and then to read his response, which is that he’s been vilified by people who haven’t bothered to read his article (actually, we have) – and to have the Constance Hall thing going on at the same time – it’s got me thinking again about the importance of wording things kindly while not being wussy (and not being supersensitive). Such a balancing act!

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