Sydney’s overheated housing market is pricing key workers out of metropolitan areas, forcing them to live in suburbs situated hours away from their workplaces. This in turn is threatening the viability of the key services they provide, according to a new report commissioned by member-owned Teachers Mutual Bank, Firefighters Mutual Bank, and Police Bank.

The Key Worker Housing Affordability in Sydney report, conducted by the University of Sydney’s Urban Housing Lab, said the outlook for housing affordability in the Greater Metropolitan Area for teachers, firefighters, nurses, police officers, ambulance drivers, and paramedics was increasingly grim.

“Our key workers are increasingly being forced to outer metropolitan areas in search of an affordable place to live,” said Nicole Gurran, a professor at the University of Sydney and co-author of the report.

In the ten years leading up to 2016, key areas in Sydney lost between 10-20% of teachers, nurses, and police and emergency service workers to outer and regional areas. The Inner South West (-14.6%), Inner West (-11.3%), Eastern suburbs (-15.2%), Ryde (-14.2%), and Parramatta (-21.4%) all experienced a net loss of key workers, while areas such as Illawarra (+10.5%), Southern Highlands (+17%), and Hunter Valley (+13.6%) all experienced net gains.

The nature of this group’s shift work, combined with living a considerable distance away in neighbourhoods with inadequate transportation, meant that 77.4% of key workers drove to work in 2016, compared with just over 43% for the general population.

Only 5% of key workers used public transportation to commute to work, compared with 12.7% for the general population.

Steve James, CEO of Teachers Mutual Bank, said the pressure this situation places on people already employed in high pressure jobs is unfair.

“Longer commute times, especially in private vehicles, lead to significantly higher financial costs and serious social consequences for key workers and their families, disrupting work life balance and impacting their lifestyle,” he said. “Critically, lengthy commute times are also associated with lower rates of workforce participation.”

Between 2003 and 2016, the median price of an established home in Sydney more than doubled, from $400,000 to about $900,000—well beyond the means of many key workers. Soaring rents have strained affordability even further, making a 20% down payment unattainable for many.

According to Peter Phibbs, a professor at the University of Sydney and co-author of the report, by addressing the key barriers to affordability, residential housing in the metropolitan area could be as much as 20% cheaper than current prices, “with vastly more manageable deposits for key workers looking to buy a home.”

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