A lot of folks have talked about – and I’m sure some are actively engaged in – setting up COVID-aware communities (note: I’m hesitant to call anything “COVID-safe”). Not surprisingly, there are tons of challenges in making this really work, particularly cost. In this post I’m going to go over something that just occurred to me as a possible concept: building a community on an RV park model. Don’t laugh! It’s not rocket science, but it’s a model I myself haven’t seen mentioned before. Keep in mind, however, that I’m not billing this as “the” solution, merely “a” (potential) solution, as any solution in this realm isn’t necessarily going to work for everyone. As with most things I write, this is largely to catalyze ideas more than anything else, so, read on!
In my mind, one of the biggest challenges beyond community covenants (read: getting people to live with one another in a civil manner) and employment (note: I’m not going to address that much here) is simply the price of admission. Land, utilities, the cost to build or renovate a housing unit, etc., could easily run into tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars per family, along with a considerable amount of time invested in construction or renovation. That’s on top of all the other issues involved in relocating to any new community.
Just this one hurdle puts living in any type of COVID- or climate-aware community completely out of reach of many, if not most, people. Granted, every concept I can think of, other than one where an angel investor just buys everything for everyone outright, is going to involve non-trivial costs. But most of the models I’ve seen people talk about would likely wind up being pretty astronomically priced, and most of them also wouldn’t (IMHO) be very sustainable, either.
So, let’s look at this RV park concept. As some of you know, my wife and I sold our home in mid-July 2023, put all our stuff in storage, and have been living in our Aliner camper (a whopping 7 x 15 feet of total living space!), pulled by our Subaru Ascent. We were also avid RVers in big rigs (Class A “bus” type RVs up to 43 feet long) for over 15 years prior, and lived in a 38’ rig for a year when I was posted in San Antonio. So we have a fair amount of experience in this realm from very small to very large RV living spaces and probably a couple/few hundred RV parks and campgrounds.
Looking out of our window this morning at the nice KOA campground here in Albuquerque, it suddenly struck me: a COVID-aware (and you can also toss in tags for climate catastrophe, etc.) community could be built on this model with a *comparative* minimum of hassle and cost compared to many other concepts.
Just about any of concept for a COVID-aware community is going to require land, utilities (power, water, sewer, and waste removal). They’re also going to require at least limited infrastructure, including roads, RV sites, and likely some community elements (more on that in a minute). Many concepts, including the RV park model, potentially could be made largely or entirely self-sufficient in terms of power and water using a combination of solar, wind, and hydro, and even sewage and trash could potentially be employed in bioenergy systems. Again, just things to think about.
But the an RV park concept has some potential benefits that few, if any, of the others do.
First and foremost, RVs (and I’ll add tiny homes in here) come in a variety of types, a huge range of sizes, multitudinous options, and – this is the big point – prices that many people could afford, especially in the huge used market. And they’re available right now, without any construction time, inspection hassles, etc. And even a lot of smaller RVs have not only beds, kitchens, and dining areas, but toilets and shower facilities, as well.
Second, folks who own a home and are reluctant or unable (typically because they’re underwater on the mortgage) to sell wouldn’t necessarily have to. While this won’t be an option for everyone, in many cases folks could buy at least a modest used RV (and you can sometimes find some amazing deals) and rent out their homes to cover the mortgage and keep building equity.
Third, to address an unpleasant topic, assuming the community has binding covenants (and it should, IMHO), having homes on wheels makes it a lot easier to give the boot to folks who are bad neighbors. This is one of the things we’ve liked about RV park/campground living: as a general rule, guests at parks who don’t follow the rules can be compelled to leave comparatively easily. Sadly, this is going to be a very important consideration, because aside from leverage against typical nuisances like barking dogs or trash-strewn sites, there are going to be some members of families in the community who aren’t going to take the COVID precautions (or other things) seriously and put the community in peril. The community needs an effective way of ejecting those people, and it’s a lot harder to do that when someone’s bought and is occupying a non-moveable home.
Fourth, aside from any non-refundable “buy in” requirements to help offset overall community costs, people can leave if they choose, just by picking up and rolling out. Let’s be honest: some folks are going to think all this is a great idea, but for various reasons may change their mind after a while or have to leave because of work, family obligations, etc.
Another aspect of this is the possibility of having on-site businesses or services…also on wheels. Think of food trucks, or even buses converted into mobile kitchens serving the community. How about a bus- or RV-based medical clinic? Sure, you’re not going to replace a hospital or specialized med facilities, but a community like this could have a small clinic-on-wheels in one or more converted buses/RVs that could provide basic medical, dental, and vision services (the business model to make this doable is a different issue).
The key point I’m trying to make is that you could get around a lot of the up-front infrastructure cost of sticks and bricks by using older vehicles converted for specific purposes.
ALSO, doing this doesn’t mean you *must* stick to using vehicle-based “structures.” Going that route would just allow you to get a community started with much lower up-front cost and less time. But you could also plan ahead to provide for permanent structures to be built on some or all sites as time and resources allow, as utilities and basic infrastructure would already be in place (note: I wouldn’t plan on building any McMansions – it would make far more sense to build smaller and very efficient homes that wouldn’t need more than 50 amps of power, which is typical for most RV parks, versus service for many single family homes that typically runs up to 200 amps).
Granted, the devil is always in the details, but this type of approach would make significantly lower the bar to entry for creating a COVID-aware community.