by JOHN BOIVIN Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
People living full-time in recreational vehicles in Nakusp won’t have to move out of them, at least until sometime next year, village council has decided.
At a special meeting last month, council voted to suspend acting on the illegal residences in the village until they could take a further look at the issue.
“It’s confusing for council to understand it all,” said Mayor Tom Zeleznik, referring to the wording of the zoning bylaw. “So I am hoping we can come up with guidance from staff, come up with some abeyance or transition period until we can figure out the good wording from here on in.”
About a dozen residents showed up for the early morning council meeting on July 24, which was called just a few days earlier. Several residents, who are living in RVs in a local trailer park, said they were upset the council meeting was called on short notice, on an issue that could have a dramatic effect on their lives.
“We feel very insecure about this situation,” said Jan Dion. “I don’t understand where you’re heading with this decision, and why it has come up now.”
“It’s very disheartening,” added George Noonan, who’s been living in an RV since his landlord died and his rental was sold.
“I hope they have some empathy for people who can’t afford housing and need lodging, and some permanency in life. I’m 73, and I can’t qualify for a mortgage. I’m tired of renting, there’s no permanency in that, and I am hoping this would fit the bill. That’s why I’m disappointed.”
Recreational vehicles aren’t designed for year-round living, and can be dangerous in the winter, when people living in them try to keep them warm with electric or propane heaters. Some people complain they are an eyesore, and detract from local property values.
Besides the possible danger, there’s also been abuse of the situation: councillors pointed out some people were renting out their RVs as Airbnb properties, in residential neighbourhoods.
But with a zero vacancy rate, rising house prices, and a booming economy bringing newcomers into town, many Nakuspians say they have no other option but to live in RVs.
“In this day and age, where there is increasing disparity between the poor and the rich, I don’t think it would be wise to sweep people under the carpet,” says Rick Offerman, who has been living in an RV for about a year, after his marriage ended.
“It seems to be a thing spreading throughout North America that, more and more, people are not allowed to live in a home. They’d rather have them live in a tent or out on the streets, rather than a small, comfortable home.”
Offerman said living in an RV allows him to live close to his ex and help care for his disabled son. He says he keeps his place clean, hooked up safely to water, sewer and electrical systems, and lives a simple, quiet life.
Council sounded sympathetic to public concerns, and insisted they were only discussing the issue of what to do about a situation that violates zoning ordinances.
“There’s so many communities now that have tents everywhere in parks,” noted councillor Susan DeSandoli. “And I would be far, far be happier to have some kind of discussion with people in the trailer park – if we could put all the RVs in one area, or a solution where we just not say ‘you can’t do that and there’s no options.’ People are rightly nervous about the discussion, given the housing situation.”
“Given the nature of the community, that so many people are in contravention of the bylaw already, I propose some kind of amnesty period until we sort this out,” suggested councillor Aiden McLaren-Caux. “If there is any kind of bylaw broken, that we cease enforcement for the time being, if that’s legal, until we find some kind of resolution.”
“Since COVID-19, our town has been booming,” added Zeleznik. “There’s nothing for sale right now, and there is nothing to rent. Maybe they could come to the village and say they can’t find anything… we’re in some very hard times for individuals and businesses, we need to work together as a community to come up with some alternatives and a transition.”
But the village’s chief administrative officer warned council that she could find no other similar municipality in BC that allowed people to live in an RV.
“I did reach out to other municipalities, and not one other of them allow trailers in this use,” said Cheryl Martens, pointing out any change would be have to be incorporated into zoning bylaws. But then she related what another municipal administrator told her.
“She strongly encouraged me to advise council not to do this. She said allowing trailers and RVs to camp on vacant land — once you allow it, it is very difficult to control, and indeed it can discourage housing development.”
Council could consider changing the bylaw to allow people to live permanently in RVs, but that could then bring up health and safety issues, and possibly leave the village liable if something happened to a resident. That’s another issue staff will look into, Martens said.
Council will consider adding the issue for public comment in its upcoming Official Community Plan discussion, which launches this month.
In the meantime, council directed staff not to act on enforcing the zoning bylaw until February, giving council time to explore options, and people desperate for housing in Nakusp a chance to make their case.
— From the Valley Voice