Ellis and Maresh: We need a plan for RV 'homes' clogging Portland streets
Because most Portland-area RV trailer parks are packed to capacity, a rising tide of recreational vehicles are being used as permanent residential housing by low- and middle-income people throughout the greater Portland area. It is becoming a highly contentious neighborhood issue.
Major complaints are RV owners suspected of dumping toilet waste/garbage and drawing rat/vermin infestations. Add blocking sidewalks and parking spaces with cars, bikes, and household possessions. And there's neighborhood belief that RV owners have "trailer-trash" values, bringing in noise, violence and crime. Unmentioned is the view that RVs are unsightly and therefore lower neighborhood property values.
Tow-aways, they've discovered, are not the responsibility of the police.
One sensible and low-cost solution for the city is to convert part of the city-owned, flat-ground golf courses (e.g., Glendoveer) to a low-income RV park, now that golf is in serious financial decline (matching city revenue losses). The advantages are significant, one certainly being a more equitable use of the Public Commons for all instead of an elite minority. Other advantages would be:
• A zone change from open-space to conditional-residential fits the City Council's declaration of a housing-shortage emergency.
• The city owns the property, eliminating a land purchase.
• Conversion costs would be minimal because basic infrastructure is in place.
• Initial costs for 50-100 RVs would be minimal to the city: compacted crushed rock for surfacing under each pod, and fencing where needed. It would save millions in in the costs of building shelters, renting motels, or high-rise housing.
• Providing RVs space could be almost immediate.
• Rent to the city would yield far more than declining golf revenues. Monthly rates, say, of $500 per unit, for example, would add $600,000 to the city's annual revenues, while cultivating ownership responsibility and community fellowship.
• Rents would cover fire insurance, utility hookups for water and electricity, garbage collection, pumper-tank sewage services, and management salaries. RV owners would cover electricity and broadband expenses. A laundromat vendor providing a facility and equipment would pay the city for water/electricity/sewage—and a percentage of coin profits.
• A waste pumper service now used in Portland, Eugene, and Seattle would provide regularly scheduled services.
• Golf-course pollution—pesticides/herbicides/fertilizers—would end. So would poisonous groundwater flowing into neighborhood water sources.
• A lease-mandated weekly rotating six-person RV-owner inspection team could do Community policing for safe, noise-free and trash-free premises. Leases would mandate immediate eviction of offenders under a "1-strike = immediate-expulsion" policy used today under "Outrageous Conduct Termination of Tenancy" rules.
Eugene already has such an RV park in operation, thanks to the St. Vincent DePaul organization. Its overall aim is to help owners move from the park into permanent, low-cost housing.
That project required only minimal infrastructure improvements. Pumper trucks remove liquid raw waste, solving public health and sanitation concerns of neighbors about RVs dominating street parking — and million-dollar expenses in having to build sewer lines. Space is free, removing the usual private landlord-tenant conflicts. But illegal activity or park rule violations result in immediate eviction. Former golf courses certainly are far more attractive and spacious to RV users than most upscale trailer parks. The grounds are scenic with abundant shade trees and picnic space on the greens for families, sand bunkers and wading ponds for the kids converted to skating rink in winter. Communal outdoor recreation like baseball and horseshoes, and clubhouses such as card games, jigsaw puzzles, and movies are inexpensive, simple, fairly quiet, and, wisely, would be limited to RV residents.
Too, most public golf courses are near transit service so RV occupants could go downtown or to nearby malls to meet most needs, groceries and entertainment to medical/dental appointments.
The chief initial obstacle to conversion would be loud and vigorous complaints initially from golfers. But it's possible that even louder and far more vigorous support would come from Greater Portland's affected 94 neighborhood associations which assuredly have heard howls from residents about RVs clogging their streets.
Golfers know other public links are available as are private courses.
Ultimately, ridding neighborhood streets of RVs as permanent homes rests with a decision made by Portland's four commissioners on the City Council and Mayor Ted Wheeler.
Barbara G. Ellis, Ph.D., is a writer/editor and principal of Ellis & Associates LLC of Portland. Paul Maresh is a long-time Portland real estate broker and consultant. Both have been Portlanders for decades and are progressive political activists.
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