Housing keeps getting tighter all the time

Moab resident feels development squeeze

  • Istock
  • Jen Jackson

 

It is only a matter of time before our living situation goes up in smoke. We are living illegally. We haven't harmed anyone, or stolen or lied. Rather, we live in a travel trailer. And that has become a crime.

Headlines in the Moab, Utah, newspaper were recently abuzz with news of the eviction of area residents from their unconventional homes because of land-use code violations. Grand County codes prohibit the use of RVs, buses and yurts as permanent residences. This is true across much of the West, but code enforcement has been lax in Moab until recent years. Now, however, change is afoot.

I believe our 27-foot bit of silver-plated paradise is no threat to anyone. We are connected to a septic system and enjoy the use of electricity. There is no water on our land, so, like many across the rural West, we haul it from town. In the summer, our vegetable garden feeds us, and in the winter, a small woodstove warms us. Our situation is as sanitary and safe as any home in a subdivision.The two dozen people who were recently evicted from Moab's Kane Springs area were also self-contained and harmless. Some employed solar panels for electricity. Many used portable toilet systems -- the "groovers" that river-runners employ -- to contain their waste. But in order to comply with county regulations, the landowners would have to convert their acreage to a campground facility, change its tax status, build roads and install bathroom facilities within 200 feet of each campsite. Such upgrades were beyond the elderly landowners' means.

This was just the latest in a cascade of evictions and migrations through a town where affordable options are dwindling. Some residents moved to Kane Springs after being forced from Powerhouse Lane in 2006. Powerhouse was a mobile home community of 23 residents who were blocked from purchasing the land holding their homes because of lawsuits filed by a neighboring landowner. Add this to the list of closed campgrounds and mobile home parks in the last decade, and options for mobile and motor home dwellers are becoming increasingly scarce.

Moab has been a tourist destination for nearly 20 years; 47 percent of the locals, however, work service industry jobs that earn, on average, under $15,000 annually. Meanwhile, the average listing price for a home, according to a real estate website listing 155 properties here, is over $350,000. Do the math: Few of us can afford to buy a house. What is affordable is unconventional, yet increasingly, locals are denied such options because mobile homes are considered eyesores that hurt both tourism and real estate -- the industries that have come to define our community.

This is not an isolated story. Across the West, small towns of great beauty are growing ... and changing. On a recent drive through southern Utah's sparsely populated Wayne County, I couldn't help but notice a camper trailer obviously set up as a permanent home -- replete with wooden awning and water tank -- on the side of the highway. Actually, it's been there for years, but I've never paid it much mind until now. How long until it's deemed an eyesore? And how long ago was it that similar homes graced the edges of Aspen, Telluride or Durango? It seems that when zoning gets serious, local people get forced out.

Last winter, Archuleta County, Colo., home of Pagosa Springs, sent its planner out on the road to discuss land-use codes with Pagosa's outlying subdivisions. One stop was at Aspen Springs, an independent-minded "suburb." For years, people there have been living on their land in RVs, contrary to code, and for years, nobody cared. The residents' message to the county planner? We are happy without your regulations, thank you. But how long before the mores of an increasingly posh Pagosa Springs dictate a land-use code crackdown?

The recently evicted residents of Moab's Kane Springs could have moved to a nearby campground. However, our newspaper reported that the owner was unwilling to accept old buses because he "wants to keep it attractive to tourists."

I've lived and worked here for years. My partner owns a business. We are familiar faces. We are members of this community. A small group here is lobbying for change in affordable housing awareness as well as policy, but sometimes it feels like we're climbing a mountain while pulling our Streamline trailer behind us.

Jen Jackson writes in Moab, Utah.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNITY OUTREACH MANAGER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Outreach Manager to reach and forge new relationships with individuals and groups who represent communities historically...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Wild Rockies Field Institute is seeking a visionary Executive Director to lead the organization in Missoula, Montana. Individuals with a proven track record in...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • ARIZONA PROGRAM MANAGER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks an Arizona Program Manager. The Arizona Program Manager works...
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.