As Aucklanders prepare for another winter, those at the forefront of the city’s housing shortage continue to struggle with the lack of warm, dry homes for many families. Teuila Fuatai looks at how portable cabins are increasingly being used for those with no other options
Both Megan Allen and Shane Savill have been in the portable cabin business for about five years. Allen, the South Auckland franchise owner of Just Cabins, began with just 29 cabins in 2012. She now has nearly triple that number.
“We could probably increase that quite considerably,” she said.
“The demand has certainly increased. It’s interesting, the time for the average rental has gone from 18 months to about nine months. We think that is because of the housing shortage – people are using the cabins for a short while, and then they find somewhere to live and then they move on.”
Allen, whose franchise supplies cabins to the wider South Auckland area has three residential cabin sizes ranging from $70 to $110 in weekly rent.
While most people did not readily disclose why they wanted the cabins, same-day requests were becoming increasingly common as people found themselves near-homelessness.
“If I say, oh I don’t think I can help you today, they’ll probably tell us what their circumstance is,” Allen said. “I’ve had quite a few in the last few weeks say if I don’t get it today, I’m homeless.”
“We’re still getting a good proportion booking two weeks ahead – they might have family coming home. But, there is the odd one who is literally homeless, and we don’t ask why.”
The cabins were especially useful for people who wanted to stay with family, and have their own space.
“It just means they are able to live with the family, but be a little bit private. It means they are not sleeping on the couch or living room, or with three or four people in the room,” Allen said.
“We’ve got the odd family – two parents or two children – that are sleeping in cabins because that’s all they can get.”
Darryl Evans, chief executive of the Mangere Budgeting Trust, said the cabins had become normal features in some residential neighbourhoods in South Auckland.
“If you drive down Walmsley Road, or Robertson Road in Mangere, almost every third property has a cabin on it. There are definitely more and more people bringing them in,” Evans said.
“Many of them are existing family trying to help out extended whānau, but also many of them are house owners wanting to make more money.”
While the cabins were a better option than sleeping in cars and sometimes garages, they were never recommended as a permanent accommodation solution. Renters also needed to be wary of problems with property managers and landlords who did not want portable cabins on their properties.
“At the end of the day, and certainly through winter, the fact is it’s not appropriate to put families into these tiny cabins. It only solves a problem for the short-term … and it’s not a housing solution,” Evan said.
Savill, general manager at West Auckland’s Dreamtime Cabins, believed the increase in demand in his portable cabin business since its inception four years ago was primarily related to problems property owners had in changing existing homes.
“With the increasing frustration around trying to get approval from council [to build] and the drawn out process, people are choosing to use portable buildings as an extra bedroom option as opposed to extending their homes,” Savill said.
The most popular residential units people rented measured 4.2 by 2.4m. In total, Savill’s business had about 70 of the sleep-out cabins.
Like Allen, his business had increased as Auckland’s housing shortage had worsened.
“It’s been a consistent increase in cabin suppliers, and we still have a solid market share – we think we’ll [continue to] grow,” he said.
Iain Davies, head of the budgeting team at community agency Care Waitakere, said portable cabins were considered a viable accommodation option for many people.
“There used to be another option, but now we’re down another rung in the housing crisis,” he said. “It’s an option we put forward when people haven’t got any options – it’s better than a car and it’s better than nothing at all.”