RVs Fill Needed Spot in Texas Resort Town
Hundreds of recreational vehicles fill the holes in Bolivar Peninsula, Texas, a rough-and-tumble beachside community that was devastated by tides and 110 mph winds of Hurricane Ike which destroyed 61% of the homes last September.
About half of the peninsula's 6,000 full-time residents have come back, spurred by business reopenings, new construction and the removal of debris, according to the Wall Street Journal. But many areas of the community still feature sand-swept swaths of emptiness, and for many eager to return, RVs have been a salvation.
Joyce Kennedy, 76, moved in with her children in Houston after the house she built on the peninsula in 1960 was washed away by Ike. She seized the chance in April to rent an RV from a friend for $400 a month and park it on her vacant lot until her home is rebuilt. The transition to such cramped quarters was "earthshaking" at first, she said. But now Kennedy finds her beachfront RV quite comfortable.
"I'd rather be here in a trailer than in a mansion in the city," she said.
RVs, the homes-on-wheels that are an indelible symbol of the American family vacation, have become a fixture of post-hurricane landscapes along the Gulf Coast. For many coastal residents, the RVs represent a temporary fix to their housing problems while they work on rebuilding. For others the vehicles offer a permanent solution to the threat of hurricanes: Rather than invest in another house that could be washed away, residents can simply drive their homes to higher ground when needed.
The RVs are the heirs of the Federal Emergency Management Agency mobile homes that dotted the landscape after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when about 140,000 people found shelter in government-issued trailers. Some of those trailers became notorious when they were found to be emitting harmful chemical fumes; after Hurricane Ike, FEMA turned for emergency housing more to subsidized apartments and hotel rooms.
FEMA did install a 50-unit mobile-home park on Bolivar Peninsula to house victims of Ike, and 400 more agency trailers are scattered throughout Galveston County. The trailers are generally provided for maximum 18-month stays.
But many residents prefer the flexibility of buying or renting their own RVs. RVs are more easily moved than mobile homes, and there is no looming deadline that would force residents to move out.
Agency Relaxes Rules to Accommodate RVs
The surge in RVs has been so great here since last fall's hurricane that homeowners' associations are revising their rules to allow RVs. County officials have issued several hundred new six-month permits that verify the road-worthiness of the RVs, so that they can be driven away from the path of a future storm.
Some local residents are uneasy with the RV invasion, worrying about a potential RV traffic jam during an evacuation. Others fear that RVs will be left behind and be tossed around during a storm, adding to the destruction. (Because they aren't attached to the ground, through pilings for example, they are much more vulnerable to storm winds.)
Anne Willis, president of the Bolivar Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, has fielded complaints about how the vehicles might affect the community's image and property values. But she noted that the lengthy recovery process means it might be a couple of years — RVs or not — before property values revive along the peninsula.
"We are all willing to bear with some things that we wouldn't have otherwise if it means getting this community back," Ms. Willis said.
George Strong, 72, lived in an RV for six months until his home was repaired this summer. As an officer in his homeowners' association, he pushed for new rules allowing RVs. "Some people said they didn't want to live next to trailer trash, but it is the exact same people who lived here before," he said.
The RV's ability to be quickly hitched up and driven away convinced Curtis Morgan, 53, and his wife, Nancy, 60, to make their RV a permanent home after Ike destroyed their house. The couple couldn't imagine living anywhere else, but they couldn't face the possibility of losing everything again.
The Morgans surrounded the trailer with all the trappings of home. A lush garden sits next to an inflatable pool. Art adorns a new fence, and half a dozen decorative flags flutter around the property.
Their enthusiasm has been infectious. Neighbors living in RVs started putting up flags and building their own decks and fences. "We're doing our best to turn this back into paradise," Mr. Morgan said.
For some residents, the RVs might become permanent by default. Wendi Clark, 32, doesn't know if she will be able to rebuild after she received less insurance money than she expected. The $15,000 one-bedroom RV that she shares with her husband and 3-year-old daughter will do for now, Mrs. Clark said.
"It takes a toll on us, being in there that tight," she said. "But it is home."