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Seattle Council Recognizes Need for RV Storage

Although the city of Seattle allocated $1 million a year last year for people who had been living in RVs to store their vehicles for up to a year while they transitioned to living in shelter or permanent housing, the money has not been spent. The reason? According to City Attorney Ann Davison’s office, any lot for storing RVs that were previously used as residences has to be directly adjacent to a noncongregate shelter site—a requirement that has had the effect of virtually prohibiting such a lot.

The reason for allowing people to hang on to their old vehicles, at least for a while, while they transition into shelter is obvious. Many people are reluctant to move from the relative safety and privacy of their own RV into a shelter bed or tiny house, and don’t go into shelter as a result. If people can keep their RVs as a backup option, they’re much more likely to say yes to offers of shelter.

In a memo, an advisor to the city’s Human Services Department told the KCRHA that Davison’s office had determined that RV storage is “not identified as a permitted princip[al] use in the Seattle Land Use Code and is prohibited” everywhere in the city. RVs, the city attorney’s office said, could be allowed as an “accessory use” to a tiny house village for up to 90 days, but only if each resident who owned an RV started meeting with a case manager within 90 days to move toward permanent housing; extensions allowing people to store their vehicles longer “could be granted on a case-by-case basis if the resident is working in good faith towards permanent housing.”

This significantly more paternalistic version of the original proposal will require a provider willing and able to meet the city’s new conditions and restrictions. KCRHA put out an initial “letter of intent” seeking providers that are interested in opening an RV storage lot and a tiny house village next to each other on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Councilmember Lisa Herbold called the city attorney’s interpretation a “pretty significant misunderstanding” of the reason people want to store their RVs while they stay in a shelter. “The idea is that this is a lot—much like a tow lot—where people voluntarily allow their vehicles to be towed into a fenced-in area,” Herbold said. “There are tow lots all over the city and they don’t all have to be next to housing for formerly homeless people.”

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