Mobile Home Association
The Mobile Home Association was established to speak for NZ manufacturers of mobile homes, but also to speak for the voiceless – the struggling class whose housing alternatives are living in cars, tents, garages, sheds and overcrowded conditions. Until about 2017, it was an invisible industry serving the hidden homeless. But then something changed.
Public servants in Wellington and district councils began to make life very difficult for this underclass. Indeed, a reading of the consultation documents (link see p 47) generated by Ministry for the Environment makes it clear when they redefined the meaning of building, they were targeting the people specifically named in the Human Rights Act 1993 Part 21(1) as subject to discrimination.
- (f) race: rural Māori and urban Pasifika
- (h) disability: disabled persons needing limited family supervision
- (i) age: older persons needing semi-autonomous family supervision
- (i) age: school leavers force to leave their community due to housing costs
- (l) family status: solo parents (mostly mothers) facing hidden homelessness
- (b)(v) dissolved relationship: older divorced women lacking resources
By effect, if not by intent, these people are being denied their human right to adequate housing because they cannot afford the $5,000 minimum to hire a consultant, nor the deposits required for the council to consider granting consent. In effect, these costs are no different than Jim Crow Poll Taxes. Of course, the public officials would be appalled to be told they are racist, ageist and elitist in their actions, but they are so because they have blinkers on – never asking what classes of people live in mobile homes.
In 2016, members of the community of Waiheke Island approached Claude Lewenz, author of books on socially, economically, culturally and environmentally sustainable new developed called MarketTowns (see https://markettowns.nz) to ask him to look into affordable housing solutions for Waiheke. 2nd home buyers were flocking to Waiheke, driving up home prices, and increasingly locking their homes up when not in residence, whereas earlier owners would rent them to locals during the off season.
As he examined the laws, rules and district plan, he found that mobile homes were not buildings/structures as defined by the RMA and Building Act. However, at the time the number of local manufacturers were limited both in number and production capacity. Many designed were heavy timber-framed, using building techniques rather than purpose-designed to work as a box trailer. He sought out some manufacturers and opened a dialogue about increasing production and improving design.
About a year later, he noticed local councils and central government were becoming increasingly aggressive in demanding occupants apply for resource consent and/or building consent. Government agencies that had been purchasing sample units to evaluate them as potential adequate housing for the hidden homeless turned off the tap. It appeared the problem arose because of the tiny home on wheels (THOW) movement, where middle-class younger people locked out of the housing market were popularising THOW’s but parking them in nice neighbourhoods where grumpy neighbours complained to council. Not knowing what to do, but feeling the political heat, officials began to assert these mobile forms of abode were buildings, not vehicles or chattel. Then with a change of personnel at the MBIE Determinations section, deeply-flawed determinations arose that threatened the industry as collateral damage. Eventually, those determinations were overturned, but for the industry it was chilling.
Accordingly, several of the mobile home factories called a meeting, established the Mobile Home Association and asked Lewenz to be its executive director. He agreed to do the work pro bono, provided it was agreed the primary purpose was to provide adequate housing for disadvantaged persons rather than luxury baches.
As of 2023, several of the founding members have died, and the industry is struggling to survive in a post-Covid era with uncertain supply chains and continued antagonism by central and local government. Some of the affordable housing designs have been replaced with luxury bach design where buyers can afford to pay for the council consent charges and their associated consultant fees. This bodes ill for the struggling class.