Working poor turn to private RV lots as cost of living soars in Puget Sound region

TACOMA, Wash. — Over the noise of a busy street, there’s the faint sound of guitar strings.

Patrick Parker is a musician but works construction to get by.

“I’ve worked in nice Seattle apartments. I’ve asked how much they were and they are like $4,000.”

With the cost of living skyrocketing in the Puget Sound region, Parker and his girlfriend Tracy decided to give RV living a try.

“I grew up in West Seattle; it’s changed so much as far as people being squeezed out,” Tracy Early said.

So now they are squeezing into Tacoma, staking out a spot inside Cedars RV Court.

“You couldn’t even get a closet in Seattle for what we are paying here,” Early said.

The average rent in King County is now $1,600 a month. Here, nearly $500 a month affords them a place to park that has hookups for water and electricity.

“We don’t have the greatest lifestyle but we are happy,” Parker said.

Once the middle class, now they are the working poor -- a group in Pierce County that has grown over five years, even while the economy soars.

“People who want to save money, they live their lives and go to work,” Early said.

Early is a lab technician who recently got let go from the VA. She's hunting for a new job.

“The only reason why I know I can make rent is because I live with my boyfriend,” Early said.

Their struggle is not unique in this RV park.

“I pay for my electricity, too,” Frank Zumwalt said.

Zumwalt is embarrassed to show us inside his RV, yet he’s proud of never missing a payment for the past three years.

“I was an addict at one time and I changed my life; Pierce County drug court, those guys saved me, they really did,” Zumwalt said.

He's been clean for a while but financially it's still tough.

“If you are lucky, you can find a studio for $700 a month; I am making $930, so that doesn't leave much to live on,” Zumwalt said.

Zumwalt says medical problems are threatening his livelihood. Once a mechanic, his tools now sit unused.

“Pulmonary embolism -- I’ve had nine hernia operations. I used to work in the scrapyards,” Zumwalt said.

But the people here have bonded over what they do have -- a determination to make life better.

“So far I’ve got to here, so I can’t complain. I would like to move on,” Zumwalt said.

“I would like to be out of here next summer,” Parker agreed.

In the meantime, the community will take in Parker’s music, welcoming others on the fringes who are working but barely hanging on.