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Getting Around the High Cost of Living

RV Dwellers Find Affordable Housing In Pricey Suburbs

By Michele Clock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 4, 2005; Page B01

Three years ago, Remi Bergeron set out in search of a home in the Washington region, alone and with a $150,000 budget.

Good thing he had a Plan B.

Remi Bergeron works on his computer at a work station he created to fit over the steering wheel of his RV. (Andrea Bruce Woodall -- The Washington Post)

RV Campgrounds: These are some of the sites around the metro area that allow long-term RV camping.
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"Around here, you have to go so far for a $150,000 house, forget it," he said. "I don't even think there are any."

Bergeron, 49, a computer systems support engineer, refused to "burn" his money renting, either.

So he drove his 36-foot RV from Winter Springs, Fla., to western Prince William County's Hillwood Camping Park and made the rugged spot his residence.

Bergeron chose the park for its proximity to work, the comforts of suburbia and, most important, its price. For $513 a month, he has his own little piece of Northern Virginia.

Here, he lives in his RV among other workers who also were drawn by the region's booming job market but were unable or unwilling to pay for its pricey housing.

Although no organization tracks the number of people living in RVs, the four Washington area campgrounds that allow long-term RV camping -- as opposed to limiting stays to a couple of weeks -- report a marked increase in demand. RVs, which used to be symbols of footloose wanderers, have become long-term abodes. And in some cases, they've turned area RV parks, once reserved for tourists, into neighborhoods.

"There are some families, but mostly it's just singles and working guys," Pat Gardner said of her customers.

Gardner manages Hillwood Camping Park in Gainesville, where long-term RV dwellers started filling up the park's 150 campsites about five years ago. Demand was so strong that she created a waiting list. Recently, things have slacked off slightly, and there are a few empty spaces, but Gardner said she expects them to fill up as the weather improves.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Gardner said, she has noticed "more IT, more government-related, more security-related" workers among her RV dwellers. "I've had FBI, U.S. marshals, bomb-sniffing dogs . . . instead of just your regular blue collar."

The reason is simple: The Washington area holds the distinction of producing the steepest job growth of any metropolitan area in the nation in the past five years, said Stephen S. Fuller, a public policy professor at George Mason University. And job seekers are flocking to the region to take advantage of that work, much of it on contract and temporary.

Of the estimated 70,800 jobs created in the region last year, the largest chunk, 35 percent, fell into the professional and business services category, which includes government contracting, according to Fuller. Thirty-four percent was in retail and construction, he said.

"They're building houses as fast as they can, and they need workers to build them," Fuller said.

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