When Rowen and Leanne Carter opened their caravan park in Tasmania’s Huon Valley 10 years ago, they decided it would be purely for tourists, with no long-term spots.
Less than five years later, Tasmania’s housing crisis came knocking at their door—in the form of a desperate single mother.
- Tasmania’s housing crisis is pushing people to seek permanent accommodation in caravan parks in regional areas
- The owners of the Huon Valley caravan park near Hobart have taken in 16 permanent residents and the waiting list is growing
- The Tenants Union says Tasmania is moving towards an American model where the disadvantaged are forced to live in trailer parks
“She was quite upset,” Mr Carter said.
“She’d been renting the same house for many, many years and her lease was coming up and they were going to increase the cost of her rent and she found herself homeless with a seven-year-old child.”
The Carters “slipped into action” and found a permanent spot for her at their park.
Five years later, there are 14 permanent spots at the park and a growing waitlist.
“We’ve got six people on the waiting list that are looking for something.
“I don’t know where they’re staying in the time but we have the phone numbers of six people that want something as soon as it becomes available.”
On top of that, they have had people asking if they could permanently camp at the park.
“We’ve had quite a few people find themselves homeless and living in tents and wanting to come and stay with us,” Mr Carter said.
“Unfortunately, we say, ‘You’ll have to go somewhere else’, [and] because in southern Tasmania, with this weather, it always ends up in tears and we just can’t handle seeing that sort of a disaster unfold around us.
“The same goes for larger families.”
The Carters have a policy of not kicking people out and they do not hike up the rent, giving their tenants stability.
Mr Carter said when people did get to the park, they realized there was a “great sense of community”.
“There’s always somebody to look after them and keep an eye on them,” he said.
Every tenant at the Carters’ caravan park has a different story behind how they ended up there.
Some are there by choice; others felt like they had no other option.
Cheryl and Gary
After caravanning around Australia for four years, Cheryl and Gary Clift decided to settle in Tasmania’s Huon Valley to be closer to family.
When they began to look for a rental, they struggled to find anything within their budget.
“Unfortunately, the availability was very scarce. Financially it would’ve been a bit of a struggle, and it’s only got worse since,” Gary said.
The pair found themselves at the Carters’ caravan park but continued their search for an affordable rental. After two years they gave up.
“It was awful. Because we knew we couldn’t afford it on our pensions,” Ms Clift said.
The pair love the park and its sense of community. They, like every other tenant, speak highly of owners Rowen and Leanne, but they are uneasy at the idea that they have no other option.
“If we had to move out of here now, it would be a major issue. Trying to find somewhere to start with and then trying to afford it, we’d have to go without other things to pay rent.”
Leah and Emma
Leah Jones and her eight-year-old daughter Emma have lived at the Huonville caravan park for almost 10 months.
The pair were forced to move out of their home for almost seven years after their rental was sold.
“It was heartbreaking. I still think about it now and get upset,” Ms Jones said.
“It wasn’t just a house to me, it was a home. I lost my home.”
After packing up her house and giving away her pets, she said calling up the caravan park was another low point.
“I felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
While she would like to move into a rental, at this stage, Leah, who is unemployed, cannot see herself leaving the caravan park.
But she counted herself lucky because she was not living in her car or a tent, and she loves the park.
“The park in itself is lovely and so are the owners of the park. They’ve helped me out a great deal,” she said.
“They are doing a wonderful thing for people. If it wasn’t for Rowen and Leanne, I don’t know where I’d be at the moment.”
Trish is a writer in her 80s and spent almost two decades caravanning around Australia.
She loves living in the caravan park and has no desire to live in an ordinary rental.
“I’m hoping to stay here and when I can’t cope here I’ll go straight into a home,” she said.
“This is my mode of living because I’ve been on the road for so long. To move back into a home would be soulless.”
But Trish concedes that if she wanted to move into a house, there would not be many options.
“You don’t get that much on a pension, unfortunately. The economics was a huge drawcard [for the park].”
In her five years at the park, Trish has seen residents come and go.
“I’ve seen people come here in the caravan because it’s cheaper and while they’ve been here they’ve got a job, their kids have started school here,” she said.
“They have moved on eventually finding a rental, but once again here was their interim, it was the only place that they could stay.”
Housing can’t keep up
Recent research from the Grattan Institute has revealed Australia’s stock of social housing has barely grown in almost 25 years.
In the same period, the population has grown by about 39 percent.
Tenants Union Tasmania’s principal solicitor Ben Bartl said the government needed to invest in more social housing.
“Over the last four or five years, we’re really moving to an American model where our disadvantaged people are having to live in trailer parks.
“What that means is we need significantly more investment in social and affordable housing and we want to see that now.”
He said he was not surprised to hear the stories of the Huonville caravan park.
“There are lots of people who are living in caravan parks, and in the worst-case scenario, people who are having to live in cars or under bridges or under tents because even some caravan parks are full,” he said.