Dan Bell and his wife, Sherry Bell, traveled across the country in their RV for “many, many” years, he said. When his wife died, Bell decided that’s how he wanted to spend the rest of his life — in an RV, though not travelling this time.
Bell has built his “man cave” in his RV, where he lives with his Yorkshire terrier, Jolie. He watches television, cooks every day and has a small work station where he helps his fellow seniors navigate retirement paperwork or understand bank documents.
Bell isn’t alone. Over 100 seniors have made Leah’s Landing RV Park, a retirement community, their home, choosing to live on wheels rather than a traditional house.
“People call it a little city of refuge here,” said Kerri Snow, Leah’s Landing co-owner and manager.
The RV park offers yearly leases. Most parks in the area offer monthly payment options — a growing demand across the Treasure Valley among people who cite affordability and lack of housing options as their reasons for living on wheels.
At Leah’s Landing RV Park, rent is $385 a month if you sign up for a yearly lease, according to its website. While Ambassador’s RV Resort in Caldwell does not offer yearly leases, monthly rent is similar at $390 a month, according to its website.
Demand for housing in both Ada and Canyon counties is outpacing inventory and pushing up home prices, according to data from the Intermountain Multiple Listing Service, shared by Boise Regional Realtors.
Over the past year, median home prices rose almost $50,000 in Ada County and $30,000 in Canyon County. In the first quarter of 2018, single-family houses sold at a median price of $297,000 in Ada and $201,000 in Canyon, according to Intermountain MLS. That includes both new and existing inventory.
“Housing is so expensive. This is how you get around that,” Dave Martell, manager at Mason Creek RV Park in Nampa said.
The Idaho Press-Tribune spoke with representatives from at least three other RV parks in Canyon County, who said they have people on waiting lists to lease space long term.
Kana Smith, an office worker at Boise Riverside Park, said their waiting list for long-term space has close to 40 people on it. Snow’s park also has a waiting list, she said.
Ambassador RV Resort has a total of 188 spots, only about 50 of which are reserved for day-to-day or short-term travelers. The long-term spots are almost always full, co-owner and property manager Daniel Freedman said.
Ambassador’s RV‘s most long-term resident has lived at the park for more than eight years, Freedman said, paying month to month. The park has been open for more than a decade.
Connie and Bill Easterbrook have spent 25 of their 35 years of marriage on wheels throughout Idaho and Oregon.
When it came time to find a permanent house, they still chose to live in an RV.
“It’s better than old-age homes,” Connie said. “They have medicinal, senior smell.”
Another couple, Ray and Lillie Johnson, have a unique story.
The couple was engaged to be married in the late 1930s — the dates are a blur for Ray, he said. Shortly after, Ray was drafted to fight in World War II. He spent 18 months in Europe and during that time never wrote to Lillie.
“I was a boy fighting a war,” Ray said. “I didn’t care about letters.”
Lillie and Ray eventually married other people and lost touch. When Ray’s wife of more than 60 years died five years ago, he remembered “this girl” he was engaged to long ago, he said.
Ray didn’t know how to get in touch with Lillie. The only thing he remembered was a jewelry shop where her brother worked, and he made some calls.
“Eighteen days later,” Ray said, “we were married.”
Since their marriage about five years ago, the two have chosen to live in an RV.
The demographics of those living in RV parks includes people “all across the board,” said Martell with Mason Creek RV.
When people apply to live at the Boise Riverside Park, they’re asked on the application why they’re moving to the park, Smith said.
“We see a variety of different situations,” she said.
Some are in a transitional phase, while others just enjoy the RV lifestyle, she added.
“Quite a number of people here have just made the choice to live in RVs,” Smith said.
A similar trend is true for residents at Leah’s Landing. People move to the park for multiple reasons, Snow said.
“Some who’ve just lost their homes, some have kids who don’t care about them,” Snow said. “Most of them are just looking for more affordable housing.”
Living in an RV park also gives its residents freedom to move around.
During harsh winter months, many regulars at Ambassador’s travel to southern Arizona and Utah, Freedman said.
The popularity of RV living isn’t new, according to Keri Smith-Sigman, Caldwell’s economic development specialist. Smith-Sigman said she’s been noticing this trend since the early 2000s.
Freedman, too, said he’s seen the trend for almost a decade now.
Downsizing and minimizing clutter as a way of life also contributes to people choosing to live in RVs, he said.
“It’s the popular thing to do now,” he said. “Downsizing and simplifying are trending.”
Camping season from around the end of April to October is the busiest for daily or short-term guests, Freedman said. Seasonal RVing is still popular, even as long-term occupancy increases, he said.
“For the last couple years, we’ve had to put out a ‘no vacancy’ sign quite a bit during camping season,” he said, “which isn’t a bad thing for us.”
The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds encourages seasonal and camping-related uses of RVs over living longer term, according to Jeff Sims, senior director of state relations and programs advocacy.
“We don’t encourage living in RVs permanently,” Sims said.
Living long-term can create licensing issues for park owners, he added.
Nationally, a higher percentage of people still use RVs for seasonal camping, even as long-term living may see an increase, he said.
FIGHTING STEREOTYPES WITH AMENITIES
Providing amenities such as swimming pools and club houses is no longer just reserved for apartment complexes, Freedman said. Offering these amenities in RV parks is likely a response to the increased demand for long-term RV housing, he said.
“I think it’s a response to our customers,” he said.
The park offers a hot tub, swimming pool, showers, laundry and exercise rooms, recreation hall and Wi-Fi, among with other amenities. Leah’s Landing also offers similar services.
“There is a stigma from people on the outside looking in,” Freedman said. “But when you have a nicer environment to live in, some of that stigma goes away.”
At Snow’s park, elderly residents often celebrate birthdays and host family reunions in the park’s community hall.
“There is no stigma of rundown and trashy living here,” Snow said. “We’re a little community that just likes to all be together.”