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Canadian Resort Living Becomes Legit Form of Housing

September 18, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

With summer over, all but the diehard campers have packed up and gone home, allowing a peace to settle in the permanent RV park residents in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

Resort living became a legitimate form of housing in Nanaimo about 10 years ago when the city council passed a bylaw creating specific zoning for the purpose, according to Canada.com.

Today, RV residents make up an entire subculture of mostly retirees and some blue-collar workers for whom home ownership in these RV parks on Vancouver Island is an unrealistic dream.

With housing now costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, people are turning to RV life as an affordable option. RVs can be bought second-hand for less than $10,000 and pad rental is typically less than $500 a month, including electricity, sewer and water services.

The lifestyle also offers the freedom to pick up and go whenever and wherever a person wants. Still, it’s not a secure form of housing since landowners could sell or redevelop a park.

Nanaimo has three RV parks zoned for permanent residency: Resort on the Lake, Brannen Lake Campground and Jingle Pot RV Park. A fourth, Living Forest Campground, allows temporary residency for up to eight months of the year, allowing snowbirds to travel south for winter.

The lifestyle means a closeness to neighbours often unknown in suburbia, even though RV park life can sometimes carry a social stigma. For those who embrace their permanent RV homes, it’s a viable alternative to urban living.

“You can be living in the big city for years and you can’t get as close as you can here. If someone needs something here, we help each other,” said Joe Zakas, 68, a Brannen Lake campground resident of three years. “I lived in Vancouver for years and I didn’t know my neighbors. You say, ‘Hi’ and ‘Goodbye’ and that’s it.”

He recently upgraded from a motorhome to a “park model,” which is a peaked-roofed hybrid between an RV and a manufactured home designed for permanent residency. A handyman, Zakas built a gazebo in the yard where he can spend time in the summer or smoke a cigarette. He bought into an RV lifestyle when he retired to the Island from Vancouver and pays $300 a month for the pad rental.

“With the price of homes you can’t afford to buy now,” Zakas said. “And renting is expensive. You used to be able to rent a house for $500 a month. Now it’s $1,000, so pensioners don’t last long at that price.”

Despite their idyllic life a stone’s throw from Westwood Lake, Resort on the Lake residents have been living under a cloud after the resort was put up for sale. Tension rose in recent months when a buyer was seen inspecting the property, setting tongues wagging about an imminent sale.

“We’ve heard rumours around here. They’re saying we’re getting kicked out and they aren’t going to allow fifth-wheels,” said Jo-Anne Easthom. But she doesn’t believe it. “There’s so many rumors running around the park.”

Owner Brian Chatwin said an offer on the park recently fell through.

Even if it did sell, Ray and Brenda Parsons say they would move their 39-foot fifth-wheel elsewhere after six years at the resort.

Freedom is the attraction of RV living for the couple. Their pirate-themed welcome sign reflects that attitude. Even the hot tub and sun deck are portable, in case one day they have to pick up and go.

“You notice here, the next thing they (RVs) are skirted in and they build an addition onto the side and they turn it into a house. The whole idea is lost if you want a mobile home,” Ray said.

It’s that ability to pick up and go that attracted Myrna Riches and Gordon Bateman when they got the RV bug 30 years ago. Alberta winters convinced them to get their 32-foot Pace Arrow completely rebuilt and the floor and ceiling insulated.

Winters are a lot milder at Nanaimo’s Jingle Pot Resort.

“The big thing about it, if you’re sitting here and you don’t like your neighbors, that’s what those wheels are for,” Bateman said, gesturing beneath their RV home.

Travelling Canada and the southern U.S., the couple has seen their share of unruly parks.

“You can get into a park that’s just hideous, with drugs and alcohol and without decent power and sewer,” Riches said.

They aren’t moving soon. Owner John Jun cleaned up Jingle Pot when he bought it in 1998, immediately evicting the rowdies and then gradually adding more lush landscaping, including a lily display residents now call the tranquility garden.

Westwood Lake residents vocally complained when residents started living year-round at Resort on the Lake in the 1990s. But the council eventually adopted committee recommendations to recognize it as a form of affordable housing. A new zoning bylaw included wording to allow permanent resort residents to be taxed to cover city services such as sewer and water. But that didn’t provide park residents any more security from eviction.

“If the owner decided to set shut it down, that’s the controversy. Where do they go?” said Ted Swabey, Nanaimo’s planning general manager. “With mobile homes at least the province has regulations to compensate them.”

Diana Friesen, 45, works as a travelling painter. She and her husband Ken have contracts in every province from Manitoba to British Columbia. After living in a tent for five years, they got the break they needed last summer when they picked up a 36-foot coach for a firesale price at foreclosure auction in Alberta.

Now they live at Jingle Pot, where they enjoy the closeness of RV living.

“Everyone in the park cares for one another,” Friesen said.

After 30 years of RV life, Riches acknowledges it does have its drawbacks.

“You’ve got to be used to living in a smaller space,” Riches said. While it means knowing neighbous better, that can have its shortfalls.

“You have gossip and stories and misinformation. It’s not like a Peyton Place or Trailer Park Boys but sometimes people interfere too much.”

Zakas also acknowledges the lifestyle is not for everybody.

“In RV parks, even mobile home (residents), they call them white trash or whatever but we like the lifestyle,” Zakas said.

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