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Tesla’s new headquarters find home in Austin. 10,000 new workers stress already tight housing market. RVs to the rescue 

When the world’s first trillion-dollar company moves to your city, it’s not unlike a huge boulder being dropped into the middle of a small pond. There’s going to be a big splash, and the shoreline will get swamped.

That’s where Austin, Texas, now finds itself, as the erratically brilliant Elon Musk moves his corporate headquarters to the city and completes construction on a “Gigafactory” that will be his primary production facility for the Tesla Cybertruck and Tesla Semi. The billion-dollar factory is slated to employ up to 10,000 “low-” and “middle-skill” workers, which sounds like a good thing. But with assembly-line wages projected at less than $50,000 a year while the median price for an Austin home is now $525,000, and climbing, it’s reasonable to ask where those workers are going to live. Part of the answer – no surprise – is in RV parks and trailer courts.

Bloomberg News picked up on this dynamic earlier this month, observing that “Elon Musk’s influence is spreading to Oak Ranch, a sprawling development of manufactured homes” about five miles from the Tesla factory. The trailer park is currently selling 120 units (an additional 180 are planned for the spring) at prices starting at $116,000, which clearly is more affordable than $525,000 – until one realizes that Oak Ranch is selling only the mobile homes that sit on land to which it retains ownership. And, as reported in this space in recent weeks, those “mobile” homes are scarcely that.

“Trailer homes [are] the ultimate symbol of the new American mobility”

Still, the idea of living in a house on wheels is so seductive that the finer distinctions often get overlooked, even by supposed experts. Following up on the Bloomberg story, Insider – an online media company formerly known as Business Insider – turned to “globalization expert” Parag Khanna for his take, based on his writing a book titled, “Move: The Forces Uprooting Us.” Trailer homes, Khanna responded, are “the ultimate symbol of the new American mobility,” emerging as “a trendy, cost-effective, and sustainable alternative to traditional homeownership.”

“Their instinct is, ‘I’m not going to be stuck in place,'” Khanna added. “‘I’m not going to take on more debt. I don’t need to own my home.'”

While those who buy into that vision may be headed for a rude awakening, Bloomberg did acknowledge that “other, non-traditional types of housing are also getting fresh looks” in Austin. At the top of its list was the Austonia RV Resort, just four miles and a world away from Oak Ranch, which is still being developed and where “much of the demand comes from contractors for Tesla.” And what’s not to like, given that Austonia’s rates are just $330 a week or $1,000 a month, less than two-thirds of the city’s median monthly rent of $1,539?

Austonia will represent the next generation of campgrounds

But those rates, the Austonia website emphasizes, are “early bird” specials to compensate for its own ongoing construction and to offset its lack of amenities, as the RV park grows from a current 65 sites to 200 and the only publicly available toilet is a porta-potty. When finished, however, Austonia clearly will represent the next generation of campgrounds, with 40-foot-wide sites with concrete pads, 75-foot back-ins and 90-foot pull-thrus, 100 amps at each site to include electric vehicle charging stations, as well as a dog park, laundry and restrooms, fitness center, community center, playground and pool. RVs more than 10 years or older will not be permitted without a picture subject to prior management review, no conversions or pop-ups will be allowed except for “short stays,” and there will be no tenting.

Although Austonia has not yet announced what all this will cost its campers, it’s a sure bet that as it raises rates the RV park won’t do much to relieve the city’s housing squeeze. Meanwhile, Austin recently reinstituted a ban on homeless encampments – a prohibition so broad it includes people sleeping in their cars. Texas weighed in with its own statewide ban in September, leaving the city’s estimated 3,000 chronically homeless people with increasingly meager options.

One option looks like an RV park

Ironically, one of those options looks an awful lot like an RV park. Located just a 17-minute drive north of Austonia, the Community First! Village is a 51-acre planned development of fifth-wheels and travel trailers, “canvas-sided cottages” and tiny homes, that currently houses 220 formerly homeless people. Although it barely makes a dent in Austin’s homeless population, its founding non-profit agency, Mobile Loaves and Fishes, is planning for an additional 1,400 microhomes on 127 acres starting next summer.

By then, Tesla’s workers will either be in desperate need of such accommodations or will have squeezed into other low-rent housing by bidding up the price, dislocating those with even less income. And so the cycle first seen in California will now migrate to Texas, as a next-generation technology splashes into a pond too small for its outsize ambitions, leaving it up to the locals to figure out how they’ll cope with the resulting tsunami.

Related:

RV parks and big money investors – Are they building trailer courts or RV parks?

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Andy Zipser is the author of Renting Dirt, the story of his family’s experiences owning and operating a Virginia RV park. The fascinating book, recently published, is available at many large bookstores and at Amazon.com.

##RVT1028

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Drew
1 month ago

Andy, it’s likely there will be some growing pains there in Austin but I hope not to the extent you describe. I look forward to Elon’s success there.

Vincee
1 month ago

So when making your travel plans for 2022, or even 2023, avoid Austin right?