After eight weeks living with her daughter in a hotel room waiting for social housing, Cyndee Elder came to a realisation.
This realisation and her determination, alongside supportive Government agencies and a secondary school, have led to her gaining a business qualification and setting up a company to help others in similar situations.
The Dunedin solo mum has a plan so those suffering hardship and stuck on housing waiting lists can rent affordable, transportable “humble little cottages” which will be made in New Zealand.
The hope is to have these cottages placed on unutilised land to form community villages. She and other agencies would help the residents, who may have been homeless or socially isolated, integrate into the wider community.
She is finalising an agreement with a regional engineering company to manufacture these kitset tiny homes, which would initially be sold to raise money so others could be rented to those in need.
It’s taken passion and perseverance to get this far.
Three years ago, Cyndee and her then 10-year-old daughter became homeless. They were on the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) waiting list for social housing for 18 months.
The hotel room was emergency accommodation.
“I was just sitting there and I got a bit bummed, thinking where I’d got to, with my kid.”
Cyndee talked her way into renting a two-bedroom flat with no backyard.
I thought, I need to do something.”
She researched training as a real estate agent but wasn’t comfortable with the potential job insecurity and liabilities.
Then she stumbled across Chinese-made empty pods on the internet and looked into using these as a base structure for a sustainable living solution.
The central idea of this involves putting small, transferable homes on unutilised land which won’t be built on for a minimum of five years.
She investigated various options but kept encountering problems.
The determined mum kept contacting authorities about her ideas, however found all the sectors which could help were bound by their own legalities and restrictions.
She cross-referenced parts of the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act, Human Rights Act and Healthy Homes laws to prove the urgent need for decent housing.
“I been living it – you can’t learn that at Polytech, you can’t learn that by reading a book.”
The breakthrough moment
The breakthrough only came one morning when Cyndee went out to buy coffee, still wearing pyjamas, slippers and a dressing gown.
She spotted a caravan belonging to the then Dunedin South MP, Clare Curran, so went to discuss her innovative ideas.
Claire introduced her to MSD staff and the barriers began to be overcome.
“I then knew that I had an affordable concept that could work,” Cyndee says.
How could a mum sitting in Green Island come up with this?”
She says she’s made mistakes in life – “we all have, it’s not what you’ve done, it’s what you do moving forward.”
Cyndee gained an Open Polytechnic small business management qualification, developed a business plan and registered her company, Able Abodes Ltd, in October this year.
Her plan involves prefabricated, 30 sq m fully-furnished cottages with one bedroom, one bathroom and a kitchen-living space. Pylon screws attach each unit to a recycled-wood deck.
A large family could fit into two of these and the three-piece builds can be easily relocated, repurposed and stored.
She says the cottages are big enough to live comfortably in, yet small enough not to require building consent. They come with building and electrical certificates and the resource consent depends on where they’re placed.
Together with other like-minded businesses, she’s working on making them as sustainable as possible, including with energy sources and use.
She says her concept has been reviewed by the relevant Government departments plus local entities wanting to help solve the housing crisis.
Design students get involved
Amid three years of perseverance, encouragement has also come from Cyndee’s daughter’s school, Kaikorai Valley College, and its Design and Visual Communication (DVC) classes.
“My daughter kept talking about DVC, which we never had at school.”
Until then, Cyndee had been drawing her ideas on paper and had no knowledge of concepts such as scale models.
After meeting one of the school’s technology teachers, Peter Dodds, she told his Year 12 students what she envisioned for the cottages.
“He said he’ll put it to the students and see what they come up with. What they came up with is mind-blowing.”
Cyndee says the students displayed “out of the box” thinking in their tiny home designs, which have helped her project happen.
“A fresh mind is not boggled by all the crap that we have after we turn 18,” she notes.
She’s also someone who hasn’t let life bog her down.
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