I Live in My Car
Dozens of parking lots have opened across the country for working people who can afford a car but not rent.
Around the country, real estate is being set aside for people like Ms. Audet in the form of parking lots. Dozens of such lots have opened in the last five years, with new ones being announced every few months, including as far east as Pennsylvania and North Carolina. They are sprinkled across the Midwest in Green Bay, Wis., and Duluth, Minn. And they dot the spine of the Pacific Northwest, providing a safe harbor for a growing cohort of working Americans who are wedged in the unforgiving middle. They earn too little to afford rent but too much to receive government assistance and have turned their cars into a form of affordable housing.
The Lake Washington United Methodist Church began experimenting with offering a beachhead for the “mobile homeless” in 2011 in response to Seattle’s “scofflaw ordinance,” which called for the impounding of cars that had accrued multiple parking tickets, a law that was disastrous for people forced to live in their cars. “Our simple idea was, ‘Hey, if they’re in our parking lot, they won’t get parking tickets. And they won’t get booted and towed,’” said Karina O’Malley, who helped create the program.
Now it is one of 12 in Washington State.
“Tens of thousands of people are living in their vehicles,” said Graham J. Pruss, an applied anthropologist studying the trend, who heads the National Vehicle Residency Collective. “It’s huge.”