Home, sweet RV home: RV living new solution to rising costs, tight housing market

RV parks are growing across the county. River Point RV Park, pictured above on June 30, 2022, opened in east Ontario in December and is already nearly at capacity. (The Enterprise/CYNTHIA LIU)

RV parks are cropping up across Malheur County, and they can’t be built fast enough.

As housing costs and shortages rise across the nation, residents of Malheur County and beyond have turned to RV living as a means of affordable housing. 

New RV parks are currently slated for Nyssa, Vale, and Ontario.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve really seen a need for RV parks in the area,” said Jennifer Wolcik, manager of the Ontario River Point RV Park that opened in December. “Whether it be for travelers or as a solution to the increased cost of housing in the Treasure Valley.”

The county has also seen an influx of workers in recent years, said Todd Fuller, Vale city manager. “There’s nowhere to go, which makes sense why people flock to RV parks – it’s quick and convenient.”

In addition to temporary workers, like traveling nurses or construction workers, in need of housing, the county has seen waves of people coming from nearby Idaho where housing prices are even higher.

Over one million Americans are long-term RVers, though they only make up 1.5% of all RV owners, according to the RV Industry Association.

Currently, 85% of River Point’s 179 sites are reserved for full-time residents, and all of them are taken. The waitlist has around 80 people who will likely be waiting six to eight months for a spot in the park, located in east Ontario. 

“We couldn’t find any RV spots when we first got here,” said Jennifer Taylor, a River Point resident. “Everywhere else was full.”

River Point is a joint venture operated by Boise-based BlueTerra Management as part of their Point RV Parks project. 

Their first park in Nampa filled within 30 days of opening. That experience and a market study showed an “abundantly apparent” need for more RV parks, said Wolcik. 

“We have many individuals that live in RVs because it’s the only housing they can afford,” she said. For some tenants – Wolcik estimated 10-15% – the alternative was homelessness.

Housing insecurity is not a new issue in Malheur County, said interim Ontario City Manager Dan Cummings. 

“The cost of trying to find a place to rent – not even buy, but rent – is so high,” he said.

Two more RV parks are already planned for Ontario, said Cummings, with 26 and 29 spots respectively. The plans were submitted late summer, and the city hopes to start construction in late fall.

“We’re being as proactive as we can to meet the need,” he said.

The Gutierrez-Costantes prepare for an evening of play at the River Point RV Park in Ontario on June 15, 2022 with the help of bikes, skateboards, and the warm summer sun. (The Enterprise/CYNTHIA LIU)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Malheur County, one of the lowest income counties in Oregon, has a poverty rate nearly double that of the United States at 19.2%. A fifth of households in the county are also cost burdened, meaning that they spend 30% or more of income on rent.

“When the economy crashes, people who can’t afford rent in places like Boise look for alternatives,” said Alexander Heap, the developer taking over the Vale RV park project.

The park will be the second RV park in Vale city limits, joining Vale Trails RV Park. Heap is in the process of closing on the property, located at the west end of Vale and previously owned by Brent Merritt. He plans to break ground in August.

He anticipates the park will serve about 80% full timers and 20% travelers, and will likely have over 100 full hookup spots when it opens – he hopes by next April. 

With a rise in RV living, residents also face new waves of stigma. For some low-income families, RV living is but a temporary solution to a wider housing crisis. 

One River Point resident from Caldwell said the neighborhood she came from was “very dangerous,” with gunshots a regular occurence. 

The family of six says the peacefulness of the RV park is a welcome change and a helpful checkpoint until they can find another house.

Long-term residents also comment on the value of community, and the appreciation they feel for the acceptance of their neighbors and park administrators.

“If you told me five years ago I’d be living here, I would’ve thought you were crazy,” said Marlaina Frederick, a park resident and in-home caretaker. “But it works. The community is really wonderful.”

Whether they’re the end goal for residents or just a point on their journey towards stable housing, long-term RV living – and the parks that house them – will likely continue to grow in years to come.


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Contact reporter Cynthia Liu at [email protected]