The spirit of opportunity really cranks up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where rent for a one-bedroom apartment can top $3,000 a month. Living in recreation vehicles, for example, used to be a trend almost exclusively used by the homeless, but is now being embraced by the likes of construction workers, teachers and hospital workers.

Many of the RV occupants in the Palo Alto community don’t even own their own RVs. In modern-day California, where a $117,000 annual wage now counts as “low-income,” some recreational vehicle owners have apparently evolved into mobile home landlords, and are leasing them out to low-income workers desperate to rent in the city avoid an hours-long commute through state freeways.

“It’s certainly gotten worse over the last few years,” Palo Alto Councilman Adrian Fine told Grit Post. “These aren’t people who are homeless. They are community members. They work in our schools. They work in our coffee shops. These aren’t just people in a bad situation anymore.”

The new rental method rankles some high-end neighbors of the Bay Area, who traditionally discourage a horde of RVs filling the curbs of their pristine communities.

Tow-trucks frequently get called in to remove the offender. The situation gets extra-dodgy when the RV occupant doesn’t own the vehicle, and loses access to his or her belongings when it gets carted off to the impound lot. Only the owner can retrieve items, and there is no guarantee that the owner is even in the state.

The problem isn’t getting better as affordable housing gets priced out of existence in much of the Bay Area. Palo Alto is sandwiched between the equally onerous rent prices of San Francisco and San Jose. It’s a place that only a successful app-developer or high-end code guru could survive. A city filled with tech giants means nobody will be there to make your coffee, however, or repair your roof.

Fine says Palo Alto and surrounding municipalities are far too expensive, and must make room for a variety of professionals, if the city is expected to function. He says he has personally been pushing for local code changes that could make the construction of affordable housing more likely.

Council members are considering increasing housing density limitations, to allow developers to build high-density mid-rises or high-rises. Also under consideration are proposals to reduce restrictive parking requirements. Fine said these issues aren’t necessarily popular, however, even in liberal Palo Alto.

“We’ve yet to see any of those [initiatives] hit the road. We get pushback on all of it,” said Fine, who then referenced the drama that erupted after RV dwellers began to station themselves in the Ellwood P. Cubberley High School parking lot a few years ago. Responding to neighbors, the city passed a “sleep-in-a-vehicle” ban, that the councilman said was later overturned by a court decision.

As always, the battle in Palo Alto comes down to a fight between the need to cultivate a healthy city containing an essential spectrum of workers concerned about rent, and concerned neighbors perpetually fretting over their real estate values. Addressing the painful RV problem and California’s lack of affordable housing appears to be a universally-touchy issue.

San Francisco Housing Authority Commissioner Phil Arnold refused to discuss the topic with Grit Post and abruptly ended our call. Twice.

In the meantime, Fine said he’s pressing for partnerships with organizations and Santa Clara County to allow RV occupants to use parking garages between 10 PM to 8 AM, and allow them access to bathroom facilities and security.


Adam Lynch is a part-time “word-puncher” in Jackson, Mississippi. Battle with him on Twitter @A_damn_Lynch. He’s also on Facebook, if that’s still a thing.

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