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Could RVs Help Solve Our Housing Crisis?



During the Glass Fire whereas of today 67,484 acres and 1,555 homes and structures have been destroyed, many victims took to recreational vehicles for shelter. https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/2020/9/27/glass-fire/ RVs got scooped up, recycled and are sheltering countless families and individuals. Perhaps RVs can help us with our housing and homeless challenge.

In Los Angeles, Dockweiler State Beach, a popular RV camping destination, has become a home to COVID-19 quarantined, high-risk families and the homeless, all in need. While anticipated to be a temporary shelter, the State has been using RVs to solve serious social problems created by the homeless crisis and COVID-19.

Early into this pandemic, LA County was a major epicenter of COVID-19 victims. LA’s 13 homeless shelters were 95% full by April. They built an additional 13 shelters in response to the rapid pandemic spread and RVs were a major player.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/2020/03/30/coronavirus-crisis-rvs-motor-homes-used-quarantine-homeless/5080088002/

RVs, trailers, campers and motor homes are a true American invention, a product of our love for the open road. Their origins trace to an era between 1910 and 1930, when Americans’ were urged to “rough it” and escape the onslaught of modern conveniences in a ‘motorized box’. I have fond memories of visiting mountain campgrounds in the family ‘tear drop’ for weekends. I didn’t miss for a minute “Bonanza” on those mosquito infested evenings. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/brief-history-rv-180970195/

But in recent months, California has put RVs to work solving serious social problems: First as a temporary solution in the war against COVID-19 and now in addressing the homeless crisis. Besides housing those under quarantine or who have mild symptoms, RVs are used for housing medical personnel and laboratory work freeing up valuable hospital space.

RVs were starting to play a role in housing Napa’s fire victims before the Coronavirus surfaced. Small but local victories. The Federated Women of the Upper Napa Valley worked with ‘RV to Paradise’, combined with the generosity of the St. Helena’s Community, to deliver three vehicles and two RVs to victims of the Paradise fires. https://napavalleyregister.com/community/star/news/st-helenas-rv-to-paradise-effort-delivers-vehicles-to-camp-fire-victims/article_62123f77-f83e-5486-b875-4c49e6152501.html

But we will need more. A lot more. Used RV’s can be purchased for a low of $7,000. A new stripped-down basic RV can be built as low as $30,000, or about $100/SF, less than today’s budget for a shed.

Here’s the deal: The 1974 National Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Standards Act enforces design, construction, performance, and installation of mobile homes, now called manufactured homes. Since 1982 RVs have been exempt from both HUDs requirements and local building code application when built on a single chassis, less than 400 SF, the size of a garage. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/11/16/2018-24950/manufactured-home-procedural-and-enforcement-regulations-clarifying-the-exemption-for-manufacture-of

The take-away here is: Napa cities should consider building their own RVs for temporary housing for fire victims, COVID-19 quarantined and the homeless. Napans are resilient and if we can survive the Glass Fire, COVID-19 and an upside-down economy, we can tackle our housing crisis.

When the 2017 Fire Storms ravished Napa and Sonoma, I told all my contractors to go buy used RVs to house their workers commuting from Fresno. They didn’t listen. Maybe that’s good.

Chris d. Craiker AIA/NCARB

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