Are RVs a Good Solution to Affordable Urban Housing?
We’re ever on the lookout for creative ways of making cities denser and more affordable. One way of doing that is filling up unused land gaps with housing. And one super simple form of housing that can do that are RVs. They’re small so can fit in the most miniscule parcel of land. And because they’re mobile, they can be inserted and removed on a moment’s notice, making them ideal for land that might be in transition. We’ve looked at how a couple New Yorkers live in their RVs, and recently the real estate site Zillow did a profile of Ellen Sims, an RVer living in Seattle.
Following the simultaneous departure of her two housemates in 2014, Sims pondered her options for an affordable alternative to traditional apartment shares. She decided to move into the RV, putting down $2K for a good sized Coachmen Freelander. She pays $540 in car payments, insurance and propane; all told, she figures it’s ⅓ to ¼ the cost of living in a normal apartment. She enjoys the RVs low cost, the autonomy it affords her and the imposed simplicity. She alludes to some of the less pleasant aspects, such as safety and finding good level ground to park upon.
We wrote a couple weeks ago about Seattle being a bastion of affordability. “Affordability” there referred to salaries being in line with the cost of living. While the city’s tech boom has beefed up many Seattleites’ salaries, many have not been so fortunate. Homelessness has increased a fairly shocking 19% in the last year alone and RVs have become a common solution to avoiding shelters and living exposed on the streets. Most of the 175-200 people who are living out of their vehicles in Seattle probably don’t have Sims’ sweet ride or relative good cheer about the situation.
Seattle’s mayor Ed Murray is now proposing the creation of two parking lots specifically for people living out of their cars and RVs. These lots will have waste management and other amenities.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances that drive (pun intended) many–though not all–to take up residence in RVs, it does present an interesting question about formalizing RV habitation in urban (and other) areas. While safety and sanitation concerns do exist, making RV living legal would go a long way to ameliorating these issues. The fact is many people who are not in danger of being homeless still want to spend less on housing or have greater flexibility as to where and how they want to live. By recognizing RVs as a valid form of housing and creating some infrastructure to support it–or allowing private parties to do so–we could possibly make strides in making our cities denser and more affordable.