How A Home On Lake Became Lifestyle Choice

Illawarra Mercury

Saturday October 18, 2008

ALEX ARNOLD

Relocatable homes have moved into our caravan parks, commanding prices to match the spectacular views, says ALEX ARNOLD

KAREN Hutcheson, manager of Jettys By The Lake at Windang, stands on the edge of Lake Illawarra and takes in the spectacular views across the water to the escarpment.

A mini-town of relocatable homes fans out behind her.

Jettys By The Lake at Windang sits on 7ha of prime waterfront land and is a good example of the changing face of the region's private caravan parks.

Still known to most as the Lake Illawarra Village, the tents have long since disappeared and caravans are pointed in the direction of the council park on the other side of Windang Rd.

Today more than 90 per cent of the park's 360 residents are over the age of 55.

In previous decades, residential parks were a cheap and affordable housing option, said Julie Lee of the Illawarra Tenants Advisory Service

"A lot of parks have modernised and are now a lifestyle choice for many people," Ms Lee said.

"Some relocatable homes are changing hands for $300,000 to $400,000 - and there are park fees on top of that."

Officially, residential parks can't be restricted to people over 55, but they can be marketed to attract seniors.

The owners of Jettys By The Lake, Hampshire Property Group, markets its parks as "lifestyles for the young at heart".

At Towradgi, the Wollongong Surf Leisure Resort has just developed 50 lots targeting the over 50s.

Some blocks on the beachfront are expected to sell for up to $400,000 - the relocatable homes, some with a double garage, would not look out of place in the Haywards Bay display village.

Mrs Hutcheson said most of the permanent residents at Jettys By The Lake moved into the park from Sydney and Canberra.

Many use the park as a base before they disappear north for up to six months each year.

Jean Maclean has lived at neighbouring park Oaklands for 14 years and is secretary of the Affiliated Residential Park Residents Association (ARPRA).

The state body represents the interests of park residents, estimated to number more than 1000 in the Illawarra.

"In the beginning residential parks were about affordable housing; certainly they are more of a lifestyle choice now," Mrs Maclean said.

"Personally, I still think they should be about affordability, but how can you control that?"

However, Mrs Maclean says the main reason the parks are so attractive is the camaraderie.

"Neighbours are all very supportive of each other, more so than you see on the outside," Mrs Maclean said.

Most permanent residents are known as owner/renters as they own their home but rent the site.

In the Illawarra a standard site can cost between $100 and $120 a week, higher for those on the water.

Although bound by the Residential Parks Act, contract arrangements can still create problems for residents, park managers and owners.

Ten years ago, residents of the Lakeline Estate on the western edge of Lake Illawarra became entangled in a protracted legal dispute when the park's former owner, Bruce Maples, mortgaged Lakeline's 130 relocatable homes.

The homes were wholly owned by residents but Mr Maples' actions put their ownership at risk.

With the help of Wollongong's legal aid office, most residents were eventually able to secure a 10-year site lease.

Most residents told the Mercury they felt some security because a clause in the act states that if the park is sold, it is the responsibility of the new owner to find them a new site of similar quality and pay relocation costs.

Others questioned where they might be relocated.

Tenants Union policy adviser Chris Martin said most owner/renters invested in their vans and dwellings, built gardens and made improvements to their plots.

"But some caravan park owners are looking to the future beyond running a park," Mr Martin said.

"When the owner of the land decides to sell, it can get very painful."

Even with compensation, Mr Martin said the break-up of a park community can be difficult. "I am always impressed with how tight-knit the community in parks can be," he said.

© 2008 Illawarra Mercury

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