Hatching a plan to house the helpless

Cyndee Elder does her homework on a transitional housing business idea. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Cyndee Elder does her homework on a transitional housing business idea. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Cyndee Elder has grappled with poor living conditions and homelessness.

The Dunedin woman wants to channel her experiences into a business which could provide housing and support for people going through similar things.

Ms Elder lives in a Green Island flat with her 11-year-old daughter. The rent is low, but the flat is small, with few amenities.

The two-bedroom space does not have room for her 17-year-old son, who has been though his own share of trauma.

He has been in transitional housing for six months.

She has tried to find a suitable place through the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), but has been on the social housing waiting list for 18 months with an A16 priority rating. The rating goes up to A20.

Throughout her life she has been through traumatic relationships and cycles of abuse. She was at one point homeless for eight weeks.

The ministry has supported Ms Elder with special needs grants for food and various bills but some of this will have to be paid back.

''I've been taking measurable steps to improve my life,'' she said.

Ms Elder is studying for a level 4 business certificate at the Otago Polytechnic and living on her student allowance.

She is developing a plan for transitional housing for people who are without a home or otherwise struggling and in need of a base while they organise their lives.

The plan is for an 8-unit hub which she has worked out to be low maintenance and low cost. It would be made from shipping containers and be basic, but have amenities and small back yards.

She envisions a ''support person'' or social worker being available at the premises. Residents would likely pay the low rent of the units through their government financial assistance.

Ms Elder has scouted land with potential, and has calculated the entire project to cost less than $250,000. She has taken advice from the Dunedin City Council and Dunedin South MP Clare Curran.

Despite encountering several hurdles and grappling with rules and regulations, she is determined to push through. Her own experience with ''struggles and put-downs'' gave her the empathy required for the project, she said.

Also, focusing on the idea had helped with her anxiety.

However, because of her lack of business experience, securing funding was proving difficult although she was assessing her options.

MSD regional director Sue Rissman said initially Ms Elder was at an A11 rating, but it rose as her situation changed.

''We have been working with Cyndee to help her find a suitable house. A16 is a high rating and means we consider Cyndee has a severe and persistent housing need.''

A limited supply of three-bedroom houses, high housing demand and Ms Elder's selected areas in which to live made the search difficult, she said.

Ms Curran said Ms Elder had done a ''huge amount of work'' on her business idea and thought a lot about it. She tried to help her with ''networking''.

''She's really tenacious. She cares passionately about social housing and she is someone who has experienced need.''

The city did not really have a pathway for people with innovative housing ideas, Ms Curran said.

Although there had been a Housing Task Force report and a Housing Summit, the ''next practical step hasn't been really established'', she said.


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