Caravan park 'outcasts'

LAST STOP: Families  facing eviction from Western Park Village include two people with terminal cancer and children as young as six months old.
LAST STOP: Families facing eviction from Western Park Village include two people with terminal cancer and children as young as six months old.

Terminally ill tenants and families with young children could be forced out of a caravan park in Auckland due to resource consent requirements.

Western Park Village, in Ranui, West Auckland, has been ordered by Auckland Council to apply for permanent status consent for 23 long-term tenants who were no longer classified as "transient". Owner Darryll Heaven said the new guideline was "complete nonsense" and residents only stayed for extended periods because they had nowhere else to go.

He said the park was home to a lot of disenfranchised and desperate people, including families who have been kicked out of government housing and were effectively "un-houseable". Despite wanting residents to be able to stay, he said the estimated $100,000 cost of applying for permanent status consent was not a viable option.

Eviction notices were given to affected tenants earlier this month telling them they had 60 days to vacate the park. Heaven said it would put pressure on the council and Government to find accommodation for tenants.

"We're quite happy to throw them out," he said. "But we're saying to the council: ‘You find them homes.' If they want to give us a list of houses these people can go to, then we're quite happy to comply with their silly demands."

The group of tenants facing eviction includes two people with terminal cancer and two families with children as young as six months old. Other residents have lived there for more than 20 years.

An Auckland council spokesman said the park changed its status to permanent residency, and therefore "had to apply for resource consent as per the rules". But he said the council was still in talks with the owner and considering the situation.

Hinemotu Oka is classified as a permanent resident of Western Park, who could soon be looking for alternative housing. The 22-year-old lives in a caravan with her partner, Ihaia.

They moved to Auckland two years ago to be close to her aunt, who lives and works in the park. She defends it to critics, and said it has been a positive place to live.

"People say to me it's nothing but a ripoff. But I say it's my home," she said. There were occasional disturbances, she added, as well as threats of violence or fines from management for getting in fights. But Oka said she stays out of that.

"People have rough backgrounds. I don't get involved. I just go into my caravan."

Oka and her partner are both unemployed, and she spends her days working as a volunteer with some of the park's children.

She said she wants to stay long term but would put her name down for public housing if she had to. "I really enjoy it here. If they wanted to close they would have to get rid of all the caravans and get all the tenants to go. I don't know how they would do that. I hope they wouldn't do that."

Planning consultants Mt Hobson, acting on behalf of Western Park, urged the council to reach a "pragmatic solution" to allow terminally ill residents to be listed as "transient".

It noted in a letter to council that residents felt comfortable staying there longer because it was a relatively safe environment where social services were provided onsite. The alternative was to remove all services to encourage people to leave, it said.

Heaven said he was still hoping to reach an agreement with the council over the coming weeks, and the 23 tenants could potentially be listed as transient if they applied for the Housing New Zealand waiting list.

Social development minister Paula Bennett said living in a caravan or campground was defined by the ministry as temporary accommodation. But, she added that "didn't necessarily mean that person or family has an overall serious housing need".

West Auckland is already home to 1200 of 5500 people on the national state-house waiting list.

Bennett said support would be available for anyone in need of emergency housing.

She had previously been critical of Western Park - saying in 2012 it was "very expensive for what I'm sure most New Zealanders would see as quite substandard living".

Heaven responded at the time by saying Bennett should "get off her fat arse" and visit the park.

He defended the prices again this week, saying the costs - ranging from $210 per week for a small caravan to $480 for a two-bedroom unit - covered the social services, maintenance, cleaning and security.

"If I really wanted to turn that place into a money machine I would double the rent. I could really rip into the system. But we try to give it a reasonable rate."

Bennett said the current situation was a matter for the Auckland Council and Western Park.

Massey University researcher Christina Severinsen said the situation was typical of many caravan parks and camping grounds around the country. She said thousands of New Zealanders ended up in unstable living conditions because they could not afford rental homes. The danger for people in campgrounds or caravan parks, she said, was that if they were evicted there were "very few places for them to go".

"Often people move on to staying in cars, boarding houses, rough sleeping and sharing housing with other families. We need investment in housing stock that low-income families can afford."

Sunday Star Times