Tiny home mania born from housing policy failures

Last week, we reported that the New Zealand Government had effectively abandoned its “Kiwibuild” program to build 100,000 public houses after it fell way behind target, replacing it instead with a range of demand-side policies that would actually lift dwelling prices and make housing less affordable.

Now, the NZ Government has sought changes to council regulations in a bid to use “tiny homes” to provide emergency accommodation. And this has caused outrage from tiny home owners currently at war with the government over the legality of their dwellings:

Tiny house owners are accusing the government of hypocrisy, amid fierce debate if their dwellings are legally vehicles or buildings.

While the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) insists tiny houses must comply with the building code and owners can’t put their houses on wheels as a way of saving tens of thousands of dollars, it’s ordered its own batch of emergency residential units on wheels…

MBIE obtained an exemption to the building code so the houses could have wheels – and said they’ll still met the building code’s other requirements, and wouldn’t be towed on the open road…

Building consultant Alan Light said the fact MBIE sought a consent recognised the view the houses were buildings and not vehicles…

Eco Cottages owner Colin Wightman also believed the tiny houses he made were vehicles, which should be treated like a caravan or RV, and said they weren’t designed to become fixed foundation structures…

Mr Wightman acknowledged that MBIE’s houses were for emergency situations, but said New Zealand’s housing crisis was also an emergency, for which his tiny houses were a viable solution.

Lets be honest for a moment. Tiny homes are basically caravans in disguise. They are typically on wheels. They are mobile. And there is no land ownership.

However, the spin merchants have given these caravans the cute name of “tiny homes” to make them sound hip and environmentally sustainable, and to remove the stigma of living in a caravan or ‘trailer park’, which are typically associated with poverty and borderline homelessness.

Tiny homes are the housing ‘solution’ you get when all other policies have failed.

It is a lot easier to stuff those locked out of the housing market into tiny homes than it is to address the actual causes of unaffordable housing and homelessness, such as:

  • distorted property tax concessions;
  • mass immigration;
  • restrictive planning; and
  • lack of investment in public housing.

The general public should not be conned, however. Tiny homes have been in existence for generations and are scattered throughout Australia and New Zealand. Only these are called “caravan parks”, and they are used to house the poorest and most vulnerable members of society who are on the verge of homelessness.

Slapping the label of “tiny home” on such dwellings doesn’t change the reality that the housing system is failing, and that “tiny homes” are a policy band aid to distract from the real housing issues. They are a step backwards, and do not present societal progress.

Leith van Onselen


  1. Stewie GriffinMEMBER

    Tiny Homes are so yesterday – after softening the public up to accept a lower standard of living by pushing caravans ‘Tiny Homes’ into the popular vernacular, get ready for the new campaign to be pushed by progressives… Dormitory Housing


    How else are ‘liberals’ going to solve the housing crisis while maintaining the crushing levels of mass migration that make their comfortable inner city lifestyles possible?

    • Homeless Shelter Dormitory Housing

      This is actually where Progressives want to take us. Gunna once posted a graph that demonstrated we would need the resources of 5 earths to give the entire global population the same quality of life as your average Australian. Ask yourself what a Globalist Communism really means.

      • Stewie GriffinMEMBER

        We just need some Domain reporter, maybe Jenny Duke, to work at repackaging the narrative around what essentially amounts to homeless persons bedding… maybe frame it as the “Traditional Australian Swag” which allows all young Australians the freedom of sleeping under the stars and the all security and piece of mind of a blanket and linen sheet.

        Families will love it!!

  2. I think you’re missing a whole angle of this; that myself and some of my friends see in these.

    With less space, you don’t end up collecting a heap of shit like our boomer parents did. Mostly stuff they don’t use or just accumulate for whatever reason.
    You also have lower costs so you can go off and do things that interest you more than working 9-5.
    There is a green component to all of the above, we’re generally accepting that our living standards will be in aggregate worse off than our parents and as such we’re likely to have less disposable income, less social acceptance of collecting lots of things, less desire to show off through material possessions etc.
    Its all about the experiences and hear and now, because we see how ruined the environment is going to be and how unstable things are (grew up with the GFC, endless wars on whatever enemy of the month, youth unemployment is all time highs etc).

    • Paul — Absolutely correct and good to see a realistic attitude. You’ll see most MB commentators can’t see past the Macro Economic theories and think every issue on here is about the politics and elitist government agendas with only political motivations……….. Tiny Houses are a viable alternative not a last resort or a trailer park downgrade as (again) most MB readers might say. They’re as green as it gets, as minimalist as it gets, and for many folk a much better way way to live than the McMansions my generation have promoted for the last 50 odd years. They can be moved out of harm’s way, think bushfire or flood, they can built DIY but would benefit from establishing good regulation ( don’t hold your breath there ) and in many many instances they can help generations of families stay together as an alternative to Nursing homes ( leave that one alone ) and should be seen as a valid choice of how and where we ( are allowed to ) live. Not everything in life is about investments or profits, ask anyone on their deathbed.

    • I agree with most of what you have said except for your mathematical reasoning. Demand for housing reaches a point where house prices become constrained by the availability of credit. That essentially means it is land prices vs everything else:
      1) Higher land prices vs Higher taxes for better public services
      2) Higher land prices vs Higher interest rates for easier savings
      3) Higher land prices vs Better quality buildings
      4) Higher land prices vs Bigger housing

      I am not asking for a large house. I am asking for an apartment big enough to host friends for dinner, that will last for a lifetime, and without having to retire in debt and risk of homelessness.

    • Well it’s all good and well if someone voluntarily CHOOSES to live in a tiny home for those reasons stated but unfortunately we are heading down the path where people will soon have NO CHOICE in the matter.

  3. The vested interests are very strong, yes?

    Shame they also seem to have talons in the minds and ideologies if our pollies.

    Get the picture, please: people are not against business; they are against this crony, oligopolistic version of it…stop shooting down straw men and fix things.

  4. I think your right about planning failure being a problem but Tiny homes are not the result of it, the movement has been growing for a long time all around the world, and not just in areas of poor planning.

    Tiny homes are being pushed by people as a solution to the poor planning problem, mostly by those who caused the problem or those who see a quick buck in it. Most tiny homes around the world are more like Owner Build caravans, and only because the legal loop holes require them to be “mobile” but those pushing it as a housing solution want to be able to dress up caravans as permanent homes to make a quick buck.

    We have a huge problem of disconnect in regards to building control in some levels of government which has led to an over abundance of highrise dogboxes not safe to live in, and the banning of owning and living in a perfectly safe caravan on your own land if you choose to do so.

    • Jumping jack flash

      Not as much to do with planning as to do with how are we going to grow the debt after we reach 0 cash rate?
      We’ve got 1% left, and that’s not going to do a great deal for affordability long term. We’ve probably got 12 months, maybe a smidge more.

      The *new* definition of affordability is, of course, “will the bank give me the money to buy it?”, not “is that house priced reasonably enough to buy with what I have in my bank account” because the answer to the latter is never “yes”, nor will it ever be “yes” again.

      starter homes anywhere close to a place where jobs are, are around 300 to 400K, likely much more, but here in sunny Brisbane they’re about that. That’s still a lot of debt for the average worker to obtain. Not impossible, but close.

      But consider that after just 7 short years these same houses will be 600 to 800K, which is certainly impossible to obtain considering wages just aren’t going to grow at all in 7 years.

      The property pyramid is in peril!

      Enter tiny homes, for “tiny” prices. For argument’s sake, they could be priced at a “reasonable” 200K.
      200K is still a ton of debt, but obtainable for most workers to get them onto the property pyramid… err.. ladder.. yes, ladder.

      • Anyone who pays $200k for a tiny home is either insane, stupid or both…. You could build a really liveable one for under $80k

        • Jumping jack flash

          I’m talking house and land package with a tiny home, near a centre where there are actually jobs that could repay 200K of debt.

  5. The Horrible Scott Morrison MP

    “Jacinda” and her illegitimate children are presiding over their fresh progressive hell. NZ now has the highest suicide rate in the OECD. You’re all so lucky to have ScoMo at the helm.

  6. Jumping jack flash

    Tiny homes are the future! Embrace them.

    How else can we ever achieve the next thrust of the housing boom with interest rates pretty much as low as they’re going to get and lending standards in the gutter? The debt must increase, because it won’t stay stagnant if it stops. It’ll move backwards!

    The answer is, as we see, smaller and smaller block sizes, with smaller and smaller houses!

    They could start off at an affordable 200K – which is still a ton of debt, mind you, but easily obtainable by even the most lowly of labourers. Then after 7 years they’ll be still reasonably affordable at 400K and then after 14 years when these tiny homes are worth 800K each, we’ll have to downsize yet again, but it’ll keep us in the black for the next decade or more.

    Shrewd move putting the green tinge on them. Millennials will absolutely love them, as they will probably need to.

    “However, the spin merchants have given these caravans the cute name of “tiny homes” to make them sound hip and environmentally sustainable, and to remove the stigma of living in a caravan or ‘trailer park’, which are typically associated with poverty and borderline homelessness.”

    Yes, its all in the marketing. Build a wall around what is essentially a caravan park and, hey presto!
    A “gated community”.

  7. A few commentators are being a little disingenuous in their ‘greening’ of tiny homes. All the eco reasons as to why people are giving for living in tiny homes have always existed, so why tiny houses now?

    But one concession. A very small minority of people are true tiny home forever believers, as there are people that go completely off grid and live in a tent, so good on them, but I would still say this to them, and all the PC others that say they are doing it for other reasons than $.

    If you were being true to the ethos of eco, climate emergency etc. then why stop at tiny houses, why not tiny tents, or at least go Amish to show your true convictions.

    And the reason you don’t go full monty is because at whatever level you stop at is the level you feel personally comfortable going to, not at what you should go to, to be fully environmentally neutral.

    The question that tiny house owners really need to ask themselves is, if tiny houses were half the cost, would they still live in the same size dwelling, or use some of the saving to size up. The stats say most people would size up.

    Which many tiny home owners do as time and lifestyle changes dictate.

    And as someone who has seen a lot of tiny houses being built, without any building legislative requirements (it’s not a house but a trailer mantra), then the eco efficiency standards of many tiny houses is very poor.

    Rather than living in a large poorly built house, all they have done is traded down to a small even more poorly built house that is dearer on a $m2 basis.

    The increase in tiny homes is first and foremost a sign of a dysfunctional housing market.

  8. I’ve been aware of tiny homes for quite a while through some of my friends. The driver back then was very much ideological: to live sustainably and within a small ecological footprint. Presenting tiny homes as a policy solution to a problem of excess is ironic to say the least.