Local officials look for housing solutions while seasonal workers do the Skagway shuffle

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

It’s called the Skagway shuffle. During busy cruise ship summers, seasonal employees show up to work with no place to live.

They might crash on somebody’s couch or split a room until they eventually find a job that offers reasonable housing. Some end up sleeping in their cars parked on side streets or sleeping in tents in the woods.

Some employers will cram a dozen people into bunk rooms, others have seasonal housing that has no heat.

Some seasonal workers have found their best option was to live in an RV at one of the local campgrounds.

“Especially when you’re married and you have a dog, you don’t want to live with a bunch of other people, you just want to have like your own little space. You know,” said Raymie Eatough, a local tour operator.

Eatough used to live seasonally in Garden City RV park. She and her husband Joe both own small businesses and travel to the Lower 48 in the winter to find work.

“It’s not like there’s a lot of jobs in the winter. So we choose to leave so that we can still bring in an income into our lives,” Eatough said.

That leaves them with the unenviable position of trying to find a place to live each summer. And in May, municipal officials closed Garden City RV park to seasonal housing.

The couple is in a rental now, but they say it won’t be available to them next summer.

“We’re having a hard time finding seasonal housing, we’ve been here for 25 years. Think about how it’s going to be for people that haven’t been here this long and don’t know as many people as we know,” Eatough said.

Borough Manager Brad Ryan says the goal of the RV park is to host traffic from the Klondike Highway. That traffic is expected to rebound faster than cruise ship traffic once the pandemic-related Canadian border restrictions are lifted and more independent travelers arrive.

But the estimated costs of repairing electrical issues plus water and sewer upgrades at Garden City RV park are as high as $500,000.

The municipality purchased the RV park in 2013 from a church group for $1.2 million. It plans to keep it open for nightly visitors next summer but also wants to develop a long-term plan.

Assemblyperson Sam Bass says now is the time to take action.

“What we’ve done is we kind of used a Band-Aid fix, which is an RV park where people have started to use that as their seasonal housing, which I don’t think that ever was the intent,” Bass said.

In 2020 the Assembly drafted plans to subdivide the property into up to two dozen 50-by-100-foot lots. But then the pandemic put that on hold. Bass says there are opportunities to tackle both the seasonal housing problem and the lack of affordable homes for sale in Skagway.

“We’re looking at duplexes, triplexes, maybe even a condo setup, depending on how it’s developed. But somehow some way to develop and make available more housing for both seasonal folks and for year-round people. Because we need both of those,” Bass said.

The assembly has discussed plans to put a new RV park near the solid waste dropoff and composting facility ,on land already owned by the municipality on the north end of town. But that site doesn’t have water and sewer access.

Bass says the site doesn’t need those. And he wants to get started on both projects while admitting not much will likely be completed before workers arrive for the 2022 cruise season.

“If we’re not willing to make the sacrifice now, we’re just going to keep kicking that housing issue down the road. And eventually, it’s going to get very, very bad where there’s no year-round housing, and there’s no more seasonal housing because it’s all full, then what do we do? We’re stuck,” Bass said.

The assembly had granted a waiver from the regulation forbidding RV rentals on privately owned residential property, but that resolution expired on May 1, leaving people who want to live seasonally in their RV with no legal options other than to move from campground to campground every two weeks.

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