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The new face of housing affordability: Buying first house too expensive for Victorian MP Tim Smith

   Friday, 12 June 2015

Meet the new face of the housing affordability crisis: the 31-year-old MP for Kew, Tim Smith.

Mr Smith confirmed on ABC radio on Friday he was renting in the seat he fought so hard to represent because of Melbourne's skyrocketing property prices.

Mr Smith, who is the opposition's parliamentary secretary for affordable housing, moved to Kew in 2012 but is renting despite his desire to become a first home owner.

"It's one aspect of my life I really want to improve," he told Fairfax Media. "It's certainly a sore point for my parents."

Victorian members of Parliament earn a base salary of about $150,000.

But a first home in the suburb of Kew doesn't come cheap with a median house price of $1.69 million.

Mr Smith's Kew electorate takes in blue ribbon suburbs of Kew East, Balwyn, Balwyn North, Deepdene and Canterbury.

The issue of housing affordability made headlines this week when federal Treasurer Joe Hockey said first home buyers should "get a good job that pays good money".

Those comments sparked criticisms that Mr Hockey was out of touch with the difficulties facing first home buyers.

Mr Smith, who grew up in Camberwell, became mayor of Stonnington at just 26.

He then famously defeated the highly regarded opposition health minister Mary Wooldridge for preselection in the Kew electorate.

Mr Smith said he was typical of many others in Generation Y who also began working full-time in their mid-20s.

"I know just as well as most people how difficult it is to save for a house in Melbourne. It's hard," he said.

Mr Smith was a member of the Australian Rowing Team between 2003 and 2006 while completing a Bachelor of Arts. He later undertook a Masters of International Relations.

"That limited for the first half of my 20s my earning capacity significantly."

Mr Smith said he aimed to buy an apartment to break into the property market.

Property Council of Australia's Victorian division executive director Jennifer Cunich said Kew offered good schools and transport, making it a desirable place to live.

"You've got the cafes, restaurants. It's just very well serviced," she said.

Ms Cunich said the abundance of mature trees in Kew also added to the suburb's leafy appeal.

She said she had seen apartments for sale in Kew with advertised prices starting at $450,000.

On ABC Mr Smith disputed suggestions there was unquestionably a housing bubble. "Just because the housing market is hot doesn't necessarily mean it's going to cool in the next year or two years," he said. "I just don't accept that all of a sudden it will change dramatically in the short term."

Mr Smith said the government should open up more land for housing to create more supply.

But Melbourne University Associate Professor of urban planning Alan March said releasing more land would provide short-term relief but ultimately deepen inequity in the land market.

He said higher density housing on existing and new urban land would help ease the affordability crisis. Dr March said restrictions had been applied unevenly so suburbs such as Kew had low housing densities, while others had higher densities forced upon them.

Benjamin Preiss

State Political Reporter for The Age