Sydney's flats: a social and political history
thesisposted on 2022-03-29, 00:13 authored by Ruth Thompson
Before the Great War Sydney was a city of cottages, modest villas and terrace houses. Most private dwellings were one or two storeys high. Almost all these dwellings had separate titles; about 40 per cent were owner occupied with the remainder rented. Australians were brought up to think that the ideal home was a detached house in the suburbs owned by its inhabitants. -- After the war a new form of housing developed in Sydney, as it had already done in other European and American cities, the flat or apartment block. These new structures, usually three or four storeys high, spread rapidly around much of the harbour foreshore, some of the ocean suburbs and in parts of the inner city. Almost all were rented. -- Flats became the subject of intense political debate. Local councils attempted to ban them or restrict them to certain areas and the major political parties regularly denounced them. Flats have remained at the forefront of local politics ever since. Despite intense opposition flats now constitute almost a third of Sydney's dwelling stock and one quarter of the population live in flats. About one third of all flats are now owner occupied. -- This thesis traces the social and political history of this change, including the impact of flats on the urban landscape and on property investment and tenure patterns in Sydney. It focuses on the role of local government authorities and the state government in regulating flats and on the political activities of both house and flat ratepayers and property developers in these debates. An attempt is made to identify the major developers and owners of flats. Relations between owner occupiers and tenants are examined, as is the landlord-tenant relationship and periodic rental crises. The public's changing perception of flats and their occupants, especially the controversy over 'high rise', is charted from a variety of sources. -- The changing image of flats in Sydney is related to public attitudes, the vagaries of the property market and the debate about the size and shape of Sydney. The thesis concludes with an assessment of the impact of flats on the life and landscape of the city.