With RV options drying up, Skagway’s housing crunch could get worse

The Garden City RV Park in Skagway in April, 2021. (Mike Swasey/KHNS)

Seasonal housing is hard to come by in Skagway in the busy summer season. For some, the best solution has been to stay in an recreational vehicle or camper at the municipal RV park.

Matt Summers, a local tour company operator, says the RV park meets an important need.

“There were people sleeping on the streets in 2019,” Summers said. “Trailers at the RV park provided a gap solution to some of the housing shortage.”

But the RV park might not be a viable housing option after this year.

Some stored their RVs at the park after the 2019 season, and the municipality allowed them to leave them there through 2020. But this month, the company that manages the Garden City RV Park started calling seasonal residents. The message was clear: If you plan to live in your RV this summer, you’ll need to occupy it by May 15. Otherwise, you have until May 15 to remove it.

And renters who do live in the park this summer will have to leave by mid-October because the park will not host long-term seasonal campers in 2022. The park won’t offer winter storage rates, either.

According to Borough Manager Brad Ryan, this is a return to the municipality’s usual policies.

Last year, for example, we didn’t make people come back and occupy their trailer, which is a requirement during the summertime,” Ryan said. “This year, we’re saying that you have to come back and occupy your trailer or you have to move your trailer. We allowed storage during the summer last year, which we don’t normally do. In the wintertime, we do have a storage fee and rate but during the summer you couldn’t store it, you had to be in it.”

The municipality is planning to make improvements to the Garden City RV Park. Ryan says that doing the improvements this summer, when RV traffic will be limited due to the closed border, would displace the least amount of people.

For the last three years, the municipality also let people hook RV’s up at residences south of 15th Street. That won’t be an option anymore, either. With Garden City RV ending its accommodations for seasonal residents, many RV owners may out of options.

Summers says that after two seasons of no income due to COVID-19, this could be the last straw that forces him to shutter his tour company permanently.

It was a little disconcerting to hear that they suddenly decided to remove the seasonal residence option from Garden City,” he said. “That pretty much puts me out of luck for housing and for the potential of having a business for 2022. I’m just a renter, not a landowner, and that pretty much sealed the deal for me to go out of business.”

Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata acknowledges the complexity of the situation. He says if the Canadian border opens and RV traffic can finally come into Skagway, they will certainly need a place to camp. At the same time, he doesn’t want to overburden small business owners who already have a massive loss of revenue to deal with.

I know that the manager is working on trying to figure out a solution to this problem, to make sure that these trailers have a place, have a home and that it’s not going to be some kind of outrageous expense for the people on there,” Cremata said. “I personally believe, because I know I believe it, and I believe everybody on the assembly would agree with this, we don’t want to lose business owners and we don’t want to lose seasonal residents, who I consider to be locals just as much as anybody else.”

According to Manager Ryan, approximately 15 people have RV’s or campers in Garden City RV Park, and about five of those have said they plan to live in them this summer.

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