Tessa Nendick and her common-law husband moved their RV into the Dogwood Campground and RV Park in September 2018.
The couple had been living in an RV for four years to avoid rising rents in the Lower Mainland.
“We’re good people,” said Nendick, 28, who works as a barista at a hospital coffee shop. “We just live in an RV.”
They agreed to pay more than $1,000 a month for a concrete pad at Dogwood, a city-owned and operated facility right off Highway 1 in the Fraser Heights community.
Three months and a new baby later, they left.
The park operator told them they would have to move because a city bylaw restricts guests from staying longer than 182 days per year at tourist accommodations, including campgrounds.
Nendick also discovered that the city also charges more than $200 a month extra at Dogwood in the summer. The couple chose to try and find a more secure, and cheaper, spot elsewhere.
Dogwood is the latest battleground for RV dwellers seeking affordable, stable accommodations amidst Metro Vancouver’s housing crisis. It’s also emblematic of the struggles cities like Surrey face as they grapple with an increasing number of people living in RVs.
Last month, Surrey councillors voted to ban people from staying in RVs overnight on city streets.
Parks like Dogwood and Peace Arch were never intended to serve as permanent homes. But as the cost of housing increases, more people are turning to them as an affordable place to live.
Some people like the Nendricks also turn to them because their RVs provide them with a sense of ownership and independence.
Surrey faces a dilemma in how to regulate these parks. Officials say the city isn’t actively enforcing the 182-day rule. Critics say the policies are unclear and this is unfair.
Former Surrey mayor Bob Bose, who has a friend living at Dogwood, says the city shouldn’t be applying its bylaws to some people and not others.
Instead, Bose is calling on the city to repeal the 182-day provision of the zoning bylaw. Bose says it causes uncertainty for the hundreds of RV dwellers who live in RV parks scattered across the city.
“Many of these folks are on limited incomes,” Bose said. “There are no there are no places to which they could be relocated so there’s an incredible amount of stress.”
Different rules and rates
The city took over operations at Dogwood in 2017 when the former operator’s lease expired. The city says fewer than half its 176 tent and RV sites are occupied by long-term tenants.
Workers have made improvements to the campground, the city says, including major upgrades to the main washroom and shower facilities, new lighting throughout and upgrades to the pool.
Officials say the city isn’t applying the 182-day restriction to grandfathered residents, many of whom are elderly and have lived there for years — only to new tenants like Nendick.
Nendick says the grandfathered tenants only pay $800 a month.
The city says it’s trying to balance the needs of the park’s long-term occupants with the facility’s intended use as a family campground for visitors.
Surrey City Councillor Brenda Locke says city staff are evaluating options for how to manage Dogwood in the long-term amidst a housing crisis with few affordable homes.
“I don’t disagree that there are better ways for people to be housed. However, they don’t exist,” Locke said.
Several sources say city staff are preparing a corporate report with options for Dogwood. Locke says the city isn’t looking to redevelop the site or plan a mass eviction.
Locke says she’s not in favour of a two-tiered bylaw system, but it’s only temporary until council see the report and vote on the options.
“[It] would be terrible if you let people come in with the expectation that they’re going to be able to live there for a long time,” she said.
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