Nine million empty bedrooms a waste

As someone who is interested in how we can make more efficient use of existing assets and help families with their cost of living, I'm excited by the potential posed by the emerging 'sharing economy'. In this op-ed for the Daily Telegraph, I've explained how I reckon services like AirBnB can help make a difference.

Nine million empty bedrooms a waste, Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 6 January

How many bedrooms would you say are going spare right now across Australia? How many perfectly good rooms are being used for storing disused dumb-bells and dusty DVDs?

The latest Census says the answer is about nine million more than one for every three Australians.

That's nine million spare rooms which could be put to productive use if only there was some way to match people who own rooms with people who'd like to stay in them.

As it turns out, there is. AirBnB is one of a host of new "sharing economy'' services linking people who own stuff they're not using with those willing to pay to do so.

Other examples include Uber and Lyft ride-sharing apps which let you catch a lift with drivers going your way and Fon which lets travellers connect to Wi-Fi networks anywhere in the world in exchange for some of their bandwidth.

The common idea behind these services is that sharing around extra capacity is the most efficient and sustainable way to make use of the goods we've got. These services also offer a way to help people keep their heads above water in tight financial times.

Nowhere is the potential greater than in the case of all those spare rooms.

The price of housing in Australia has been rising steeply, pushing affordability out of reach of many.

In just a generation the price of a typical home has risen from three times median earnings to nearly seven times median earnings.

Renting out the spare room for a couple of nights a month not only helps make ends meet but also offers a way of bridging the gap between housing supply and housing demand.

If our society can't build the homes we need as fast as the market demands, at least we can make better use of the bedrooms we have.

The discussion about the sharing economy often focuses on what it does for consumers. But it's time we started thinking about the benefits for people providing the service. There are few people with a mortgage who couldn't do with a few hundred extra dollars a month.

These services help make useful assets out of our excess stuff, and there may be real benefits here for ordinary Australian families.


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  • commented 2015-05-27 07:21:57 +1000
    Wow, I’m impressed that a politician is actually addressing this problem though I question his solution. What we really need (and I have no idea how to achieve this) is to realise how poorly our society allocates resources and start living in a cyclical fashion. That is think about the next generation. People abandon their children for 60 hours a week to work a job that many of them hate to afford to feed and house themselves and yet half of the food in Australia is thrown away, we have 9,000,000 empty bedrooms, and retirees live in inner ring suburbs while working families live in outer exurban slums and have to commute everywhere by car.

    Kids are getting obese, and every problem that we get we solve by consuming something. Kids resent you for never seeing them – buy them some more crappy plastic toys, wife resents you for not seeing her – buy her some crappy Pandora trinkets, resent your family because you’re exhausted – hang out in your “mancave”. If we spent more on parks and less on backyards, more on public transport and less on cars, more on cinemas and less on cinema rooms, more on public pools and less on private pools, more in the public realm and less on the private realm we would all live far more fulfilling lives. You’ve identified a symptom but not the problem, too often we succumb to our selfish self interest which is starting to backfire more than not, especially as Melbourne and Sydney become mega-cities.
  • commented 2015-02-09 16:03:14 +1100
    I suggest you take note of the number of vacant properties in the greater Melbourne area alone – in excess of 46,000.

    The suggestions made in this report (link below), which contains a full analysis of empty properties in each suburb of Melbourne, would be a good starting point for addressing the problems you have highlighted in the article above.

    http://www.prosper.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Speculative_Vacancies-2014_final.pdf

    Catherine Cashmore

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8/1 Torrens Street, Braddon ACT 2612 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au