SURGING property prices in the Hunter, up 2 per cent in the most recent figures reported today, are just the latest chapter in the fast-moving story of Australian housing.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday released data that showed 43,000 Australians shifted out of capital cities last year. That figure is the largest net inflow into the regions since at least 2001. The shift in NSW came third behind Queensland and Victoria. Despite that placing, anecdotal indications are that the Hunter has become hot property during the past year.
The region's rental market in recent months has been testament to demand outstripping supply, with Real Estate institute of NSW data showing a vacancy rate of just 1.2 per cent in March.
There are numerous factors at play. Affordability is eroding significantly in Sydney as swollen prices continue to balloon, and digital commutes have become a proven option after lockdowns left employers with little option but to try the new modes of work. With the tyranny of geography set aside from earning a capital city wage, why pay a premium to live there?
Given interest rates remain at historic lows, the question remains what lever lawmakers can pull to cool down a market that shows no signs of losing heat independently. Equally concerning is that affordability remains an issue even with such a small cost for capital for those keen to enter the market for the first time.
Waratah town planner Tony Proust has branded the present situation "not sustainable". "It's a diabolically difficult problem to solve," he said. "There's no easy solution, but governments don't want to know about it.
"Housing is not an investment - a way to make money - it is a human right."
Mr Proust is certainly correct, but the fact remains that government incentives for property investment remain attractive options for those who can afford it.
The Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot released late last month found one affordable NSW home for a single person on JobSeeker, and three across Australia.
The problem is clear, but solutions are less so. Rental scarcity is likely solved through investors, yet the presence of investors in the market buoys prices and thins supply for would-be purchasers. It is a question that demands attention, yet receives little. Perhaps the next chapter is delivering a solution to an untenable status quo.