OPINION: There’s no getting around the fact that trailer parks have a bad name.
Without knowing much about them and not having been in one, I feel I already know they are refuges for the poor, the down-and- out and the beneficiary class. The stigma attached to them suggests they are also bastions of crime and dysfunction where violence and drugs reign. The term “trailer park trash” has entered the lexicon even in sheltered places like New Zealand which has camping grounds but very few, if any, trailer parks.
But the bad rep appears to be changing, at least in the United States where trailer parks are increasingly seen as an affordable option for less well off seniors.
And maybe, just maybe, they are also the answer to housing those in New Zealand who otherwise end up on the streets, often through their own fault it must be said, with nowhere to go. Or those that can’t afford market rents when demand is high and those who miss out because they are always at the end of the queue. And those living in intolerable conditions.
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Maybe the time of the trailer park has come.
The need is definitely there.
In the last three months of last year the Ministry of Social Development, just in Auckland, gave out 4000 emergency housing special needs grants worth $4 million. Many of the needy end up in motels where in many cases they are not really wanted.
Last year the Government put aside another $300 million for emergency housing after hundreds of mainly Aucklanders were looking at spending the winter in their cars and other dire housing needs were exposed.
The funding boost should provide extra places for vulnerable people in need of urgent housing help, extra support for tenants and more frontline staff.
The only certainty around this issue is that allocated funding is never enough. Those seeking emergency housing are the desperate cases. Thousands of others persevere in perilous conditions provided by caravans, buses, garages and overcrowded houses.
Enter the trailer home, so called because they can be moved around easily on the back of a trailer. I understand that doesn’t really happen. The homes arrive on the back of a truck, are plonked down, connected up and they stay there, pretty much for good.
But the advantages of trailer parks for housing seem obvious. The homes can be mass produced and built quickly. They make better use of small tracts of land and can be shifted to where there is most need.
For instance this week a protest took place in Castor Cres in the east of Porirua. The protesters gathered on an empty hectare which once hosted 27 state houses which were demolished in 2009 because of their age and vulnerability to a good earthquake.
The block of land, which we can assume has the needed underground infrastructure and other services nearby, could accommodate about 100 trailer homes making a huge dent on the housing problems of the area.
Of course people will say that trailer homes should be an absolute last resort as though they are really the pits in housing terms. But listen to Jane who attended the protest.
She said she would pitch a tent on the grass of Castor Cres if she could.
“How many people could live on that? Even if they made it a camping ground, it would be better than it is now.”
In a perfect world everybody would have a cosy home, maybe with a bit of garden and a garage for the car. This is utopian thinking and doesn’t help anybody. What people need is a roof over their heads in accommodation which provides the basics which don’t need to be cheap and nasty.
The additional beauty of a trailer park is that some communal facilities like a large laundries and recreation rooms can be provided, thereby saving on space and expense.
The pitfalls of such places are obvious. It’s hard to imagine the trailer parks in New Zealand’s poorer suburbs being like the trailer parks I’ve just been reading about in Time magazine. This was an article about trailer parks in the United States for retirees who haven’t saved much and end up in their advanced years without much money. Trailer parks featured in the story give their residents some spare cash for a decent lifestyle, companionship (neighbours are close), activities and support.
One academic quoted in the article says: “Trailer parks can be thought of as a gated community for people who aren’t so wealthy.”
An obvious stigma still attaches to trailer parks in the United States partly because landlords who lease out the land on which the trailer homes rest tend to screw every last cent out of their tenants.
But it doesn’t need to be like that if the Government, be it central or local, owns the lands and runs the outfit for a fee.
The trick will obviously be to stop these parks becoming unsafe and unpleasant places to live and breeding grounds for crime and addictions. That comes down to management and the services put in place.
For many people it could be the end of transience, deprivation and loneliness. Roll on the trailer park.