Mobile home park owner challenges Olympia’s ban on RVs as permanent housing

Olympia doesn’t allow people to live in RVs. One property owner calls that ‘needlessly restrictive’

Andrew Cramer, owner of the Coach Post Mobile Home Park in west Olympia, talks about the city's restrictions on people living in recreational vehicles.
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Andrew Cramer, owner of the Coach Post Mobile Home Park in west Olympia, talks about the city's restrictions on people living in recreational vehicles.

The owner of a mobile home park in west Olympia cited for allowing people to live in recreational vehicles says city code is standing in the way of affordable housing.

Andrew Cramer owns the Coach Post Mobile Home Park at 3633 Seventh Ave. SW, where dozens of people pay rent to live in RVs. One family lives in a converted school bus.

Olympia’s code says RVs and other vehicles cannot be used for “living, sleeping, cooking or any similar use” on public or private property. Speaking at the Olympia City Council meeting Tuesday, Cramer encouraged the council to consider changing that.

“The letter I received would undoubtedly have created additional homeless people in the city of Olympia. Zero doubt,” he said, noting he is working with city staff to address the problems.

Cramer said he owns about a dozen mobile home parks in Washington and Oregon. County records show he bought the 6.5-acre west Olympia property in 2017 for $3.85 million. He said people were living in RVs at the time but that he checked with the city’s code enforcement office before buying the property and he didn’t think it would be a problem.

A city spokeswoman said the property caught the city’s attention in November after someone complained about raw sewage. She said code enforcement officers went out there and found other problems, including more residences than allowed under a 1993 site plan that was based on septic capacity. That plan was approved by the county; the park was later annexed by the city.

In late March, the city gave notice that Coach Post was violating city code by letting people live in RVs and having dozens of unpermitted water spigots and power outlets. The city gave Cramer 14 days to solve the problems or face fines, though no fines had been imposed as of this week.

The city also is asking him to comply with the 1993 plan.

“You need to be in compliance right now. If you want to upgrade, show us a (new) plan and we can work toward that,” said Kellie Purce Braseth, Olympia’s strategic communications director.

While bans on RVs as permanent residences are common, some cities grappling with affordable housing shortages are making exceptions. In 2017, Portland officials announced they would “deprioritize” enforcement against RVs on private property. For ones parked on city streets, Seattle experimented with designated RV lots, a concept that was proposed this year in San Francisco.

But Olympia’s Braseth said the city’s rules on RVs as permanent residences isn’t likely to change.

“That is a difficult one, but we still have to have a commitment to providing safe places for people,” she said. “The city has to land on the side of safety.”

Abby Spegman joined The Olympian in 2017. She covers the city of Olympia and a little bit of everything else. She previously worked at newspapers in Oregon, New Hampshire and Hawaii.