If you're a fan of crisp country air and the spending weekends wine tasting at local vineyards, then Australia's Hunter Valley doesn't sound like a bad place to invest in your first home.
There's only one catch. Your daily commute to a job in Sydney's central business district would consist of a round-trip of more than 300km. It's a trip that takes around two-and-a-half hours one-way in your car, and more than three hours, at its fastest, one-way on public transport.
It sounds like a tough slog. But for someone earning A$57,000 ($62,000) or less, Cessnock, a small town deep in the heart of the Hunter, is the closest affordable town to Sydney.
That's according to a new report, released yesterday, revealing the extent of Sydney's housing affordability crisis.
The University of Sydney report found in the 10 years between 2006 and 2016, Sydney lost close to 20 per cent of key workers including teachers, nurses and emergency service workers to outer and regional areas in the Illawarra, Southern Highlands and Hunter Valley.
"Australia's key workers are increasingly locked out of home ownership, particularly in the metropolitan housing markets of Sydney and Melbourne," the report said. "High house prices and rents are 'pushing out' some of Sydney's key workers."
The report reveals that between 2003 and 2016, the median price of established homes in Sydney more than doubled from A$400,000 to around A$900,000 — beyond the reach of many key workers, especially those who are single.
Soaring rents have heightened the crisis, making a 20 per cent home loan deposit out of reach for many.
"For instance, a single key worker eyeing a property in Sydney's inner ring at the 2016 median price of just over A$1 million would need 13 years to save for a deposit," the report stated. "This is a sharp increase from the 8.4 years needed to save a 20 per cent deposit in 2006.
"Key workers can't afford to buy a home in Sydney's inner-city suburbs, while a nurse with five years' experience who earns about A$57,000 can only afford to buy a home in Cessnock."
Port Stephens, Lake Macquarie, Maitland and Cessnock are the only four suburbs in the NSW Hunter and Central Coast that Sydney's 156,000 key workers can afford — all more than 100km away from Sydney.
The report found Parramatta in Sydney's west experienced the largest loss of key workers from 2006 to 2016 while Shoalhaven, Southern Highlands, Hunter Valley and Illawarra all had an increase in key workers moving to the area.
It also revealed 12 per cent of police officers employed in Sydney's CBD and inner south live in the Central Coast, Illawarra, Newcastle and Hunter — and they commute between 50-100km to get to work.
The huge commutes are often not possible unless the these workers have their own cars too, the report claimed.
"For the many key workers who work in shifts, such as nurses, police and paramedics, often the car is the only means available to travel to work because of the poor availability of public transport in non-peak times," the report said.
It showed that more than 77 per cent of key workers drove their private vehicle to work in 2016, compared with just over 43 per cent for the general population. Only 5 per cent of key workers used public transport to get to work, compared with 12.7 per cent for the general population.
Teachers Mutual Bank, which commissioned the report, said any cooling off in Sydney's housing market has not trickled down to a price range that key workers can afford.
"It would have to be the Ice Age for any such cooling to fit their salary and household budget," said chief executive officer Steve James.
"For teachers who are earning under six-figure incomes, a 10 per cent deposit on a A$1.5 million house is not feasible. They still can't afford to live within 100km of where they work."
Several urgent solutions were suggested to ensure Sydney didn't lose more of its key workers, including a key worker housing target for the NSW government and policies to reduce construction costs for key worker accommodation in Sydney.
— additional reporting AAP