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By Brett Warren

The Pandemic-driven population shift – how COVID-19 affected where and how Aussies want to live

Covid 19 changed where and how many of us wanted to live.

It triggered a significant migration away from Australia's major cities as families sought more affordable housing options in regional and outer-metropolitan areas, capitalizing on the widespread adoption of flexible work arrangements.

Analysis of newly released regional population data from the ABS by The Australian Financial Review reveals that southeast Queensland and small coastal communities emerged as the primary recipients of this pandemic-induced migration.

Migration from capital cities

The influx of population was particularly noticeable in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, and coastal areas of southeast Queensland up to Bundaberg, where a net influx of approximately 87,000 Australians was recorded between June 2020 and June 2022.

Net Internal Migration June 2020 To June 2022

Source:  Australian Financial Review

It's important to note that this analysis only considers internal migration, which refers to the movement of Australians within the country, excluding overseas migration and natural increases.

Population Change By State June 2020 To June 2022

Source: Australian Financial Review

During the first two years of the pandemic (June 2020 to June 2022), around 86,000 people left Sydney, while nearly 60,000 residents of Melbourne relocated elsewhere.

The areas most affected by population outflows were Parramatta in Sydney's west and Brimbank and Dandenong in Melbourne's outer southeast, each losing over 10,000 residents or more than 5% of their estimated populations.

Other Sydney regions that experienced significant resident outflows include Fairfield, the inner city, and Canterbury.

Fairfield lost 8,400 residents (4.3% of its population), the inner city lost 7,600 residents (3% of its population), and Canterbury lost 7,000 residents (4.8% of its population).

On the other hand, areas on the outskirts of capital cities and lifestyle destinations along the east coast, particularly in Queensland, witnessed the highest population influx.

Locations such as Molonglo near Canberra, Rouse Hill and Blacktown in Sydney's rapidly expanding northwest, and Jimboomba to the south of Brisbane experienced net internal migration flows exceeding 10% of their populations between June 2020 and June 2022.

Coastal communities also saw a surge in new residents as people sought alternative living environments outside of major cities.

Victoria's Surf Coast gained over 6,000 people from internal migration, equivalent to 7% of its population.

Western Australia's Margaret River and New South Wales Port Macquarie regions both experienced a 3.7% population boost, with 2,000 and 3,200 individuals respectively choosing to relocate.

Consequences of population shuffle

Components Of Population Change By Capital City

However, this mass migration from capital cities has had its consequences.

Byron Bay, a popular destination, experienced a housing crisis aggravated by internal migration during the pandemic.

The area's homelessness rate  is the highest in the state outside of Sydney.

To address this issue, the local council is considering implementing a 60-day cap on certain short-term holiday rentals to increase the supply of long-term rentals.

Similarly, other small towns and regional areas have struggled to cope with the influx of new residents who primarily work remotely, leaving local businesses in need of workers.

Aus Population

What happens now?

While the pandemic allowed people to have greater control over their living arrangements by enabling remote work and learning, experts suggest that this trend may be short-lived.

The AFR quoted Liz Allen, a demographer from the Australian National University, who said the desire for relief from the pressures of city life during COVID-19 led to this shift in population distribution.

She said remote learning and working from home enabled individuals to take greater control of their living arrangements, seeking homes with larger backyards, more rooms, or a change of pace.

However, as workers are being recalled to the office, these opportunities for housing might be short-lived.

Dr Allen also noted that Australia's international border closure has halted inbound migration to metropolitan areas, creating the appearance of an exodus.

She believes that major cities will remain favoured due to job opportunities and educational facilities, making it unlikely for a regional renaissance to occur post-pandemic.

Nevertheless, this shift in population presents an opportunity to understand the motivations behind people's moves and implement measures that better support Australians in achieving their housing preferences.

About Brett Warren Brett Warren is National Director of Metropole Properties and uses his two decades of property investment experience to advise clients how to grow, protect and pass on their wealth through strategic property advice.

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