Los Angeles has a growing problem of people living in recreational vehicles (RVs) on its streets. According to the latest count, more than 11,000 people are living in RVs across Los Angeles County, a number that has been rising as the Covid-19 pandemic forced more people into poverty.
Some of the RV dwellers have jobs but either don’t want to pay apartment rent, or can’t afford to pay it, in a city where the average one-bedroom apartment costs around $2,500 a month. Some RV dwellers own the vehicles, but others rent them to the monthly tune of a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000.
In Los Angeles, you are allowed to sleep in a vehicle on some streets. There are, of course, parking restrictions on many streets. But as the number of RVs has grown, enforcing those restrictions has become harder. Large, immobile RVs require large tow trucks. And, according to the city, destroying a dilapidated RV that might contain harmful chemicals can cost up to $9,000 per vehicle.
The city has been trying to tackle this phenomenon with a piecemeal approach. One strategy is to offer RV residents $500 gift cards and a motel room to leave their vehicles. The city also offers to tow and destroy their RVs.
But not all RV dwellers are willing to give up their vehicles. Some see them as their only shelter and security. Others fear that the motel rooms are temporary and that they will end up back on the streets.
“The idea sometimes our clients have is, ‘What if this doesn’t work? If this doesn’t work, then I’m back on the streets. I’m back to square one,’” said LaTonya Smith, interim CEO at the St. Joseph Center, a nonprofit that helps the city find accommodation for the unhoused.
“People who are living in RVs consider themselves to be housed, and in order for them to leave that RV, sometimes we have to incentivize,” she added.
Outreach workers from St. Joseph Center interact regularly with RV dwellers. A spokesperson told CNN: “Staff encounter a large percentage, probably safe to say as much as 80-85%, of individuals who are ‘leasing’ RVs or may have purchased an RV that is not suitable for habitation or a ‘legal’ sale.”
The RV issue is part of a broader housing crisis in California, where wildfires and water shortages have also affected homeowners and renters. State Farm has stopped selling new homeowner insurance policies in California because of the wildfire risk. Arizona has imposed a moratorium on new construction permits in parts of Phoenix due to water shortages.
As the climate change real estate bubble risks billions, many people are looking for alternative ways to live. But for those who are living in RVs on Los Angeles’ streets, the future is uncertain and elusive.
– Thousands are living in RVs on Los Angeles’ streets. Leaders want to shrink the number, but the solution is elusive, CNN, June 5, 2023
– Arizona Limits Construction Around Phoenix as Its Water Supply Dwindles, New York Times (News), June 6, 2023
– State Farm Halts New Homeowner Insurance In California Due To Wildfires, HuffPost, June 6, 2023
– Homebuyers are putting less money down now, as bidding wars fade, Axios, June 6, 2023