Makeshift dwellings symptom of housing crisis

RICHARD MEADOWS
Last updated 05:00 20/07/2014

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Carpeted garages, spare couches, port-a-cabins, caravans, makeshift tents, and even an old shipping container.

This is the new reality for affordable accommodation in the country's biggest metropolis, with Auckland's housing supply under growing pressure.

The situation was "hideous", said Darryl Evans, chief executive of Mangere Budgeting Services.

"The last 18 months, we're seeing more homeless than I've ever seen," he said.

"Vulnerable people are far more transient now than they've ever been, because they have to go where they can afford."

Evans attends a regular Housing Forum with other social agencies, and said the problem was city-wide.

In his own home patch, an influx of first-home buyers are turning their attention to South Auckland, pushing up rent and house prices.

Mangere Budgeting has just opened a new office in Tuakau, south of Pukekohe, as displaced families move to the city fringes.

"What's happening to Mangere is what happened to Grey Lynn and Ponsonby 25 years ago, where the Polynesian and Maori families were pretty much forced out . . . chasing cheaper housing," Evans said.

Many families had to either squeeze more people in to save money, or move somewhere cheaper.

"I've just been to a four-bedroom house in Mangere - 11 children and four adults. They've got mattresses down in the lounge," Evans said.

Others resorted to couch-surfing around friends' and relatives' homes, or finding makeshift accommodation.

Evans recently took a food parcel to a man living in a shipping container, but had to return with ready-to-eat alternatives as there was no electricity or plumbing.

Another family, evicted for not paying their rent, had been found holed up in a makeshift tent under the Tuakau bridge.

Paul de Vries is a franchisee for GarageCarpetPro, which specialises in laying garage carpet and insulation.

"People are just using all the space available," he said.

While popular uses included home gyms and rumpus rooms, several garages were being converted to offices and bedrooms.

The company offers finance schemes through GE Money, with carpet and garage door insulation typically costing $2000.

"If you have to build [an extension], I think your council fees will be about $15,000 to $20,000, and then your build costs," said de Vries.

Evans said his clients did not even have the money to make their garages inhabitable.

"I just heard of a family we're working with, they just went to the dump and picked up old, manky carpet and laid it down on the floor."

He said the other trend was an increase in caravans, small cabins and sleep-outs, which can be rented for as little as $60 a week.

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"If you drive down Massey Road, I would suggest to you that every third house, you would see a port-a-cabin in the garden," Evans said.

Andrew King is a franchisee for RoomMate Cabins in Auckland.

He said demand had picked up this year, although it was not a huge increase.

"The largest group who use it would be families who have perhaps got a couple of kids sharing a bedroom, and are starting to outgrow it," said King.

"It means they don't have to move house, basically."

King is also a property investor, and said it was a myth that landlords tried to squeeze in as many tenants as possible.

"They don't want that, because it causes damage," he said.

"It's usually a tenant-driven thing, when affordability becomes an issue."

Ironically, Evans said many of those who were struggling to keep up with rising Auckland prices would be happy to leave if they could.

But those on benefits were barred from living in smaller towns, under the Government's limited employment policy.

Evans said long-term beneficiaries would be much better off living cheaply in rural towns, and could probably even find work.

"There are definitely solutions - but nobody wants to listen."

- Sunday Star Times

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