FACES OF THE BOOM: Family Spending $2,000 a Month to Live in RVWILLISTON, N.D. – A North Dakota family is spending $2,385 each month this winter to live in an RV near Williston, not including what they’ve invested in heat lamps under the camper and plywood skirting to keep out the cold.
By: Amy Dalrymple, Forum Communications
WILLISTON, N.D. – A North Dakota family is spending $2,385 each month this winter to live in an RV near Williston, not including what they’ve invested in heat lamps under the camper and plywood skirting to keep out the cold.
They can’t make ends meet.
Jayson and Angelia Jarvis had high hopes when they left Spokane, Wash., to build a new life in North Dakota.
Jayson, a truck driver who delivered milk, was about to see his wages reduced and have to reapply for his job after the union contract wasn’t renewed.
The family was already deep in debt, so they decided to check out North Dakota oil country after hearing about the potential for high-paying jobs.
“Everything sounds so good,” Jayson said. “But we’ve yet to see it.”
About 10 months later, the couple is going further into debt living in an RV park with their 7-year-old son, Steven, and Chihuahua, Bruiser.
Jayson hauls crude oil for a trucking company. Some days he’ll work 12 to 14 hours, but other days he sits by his cellphone waiting to be called.
“The work here has been way too inconsistent to make enough,” he said.
The family is grateful that Jayson’s bosses have helped them out during slow weeks. At one point they owed the company $7,000, but now it’s down to about $3,500.
Angelia started working in a grocery store deli to increase their income and was considered for a promotion after just three weeks. But she had to quit because she couldn’t plan around Jayson’s sporadic schedule and they didn’t have someone to watch Steven after school.
Angelia found an ad for a babysitter on Craigslist, but they were charging $13 an hour. She made $10 an hour at the grocery store.
The biggest challenge for the family has been housing.
Angelia looked for months to find an affordable place to live near Williston. The best option was a three-bedroom mobile home that rented for $2,200 a month and required a $2,000 deposit.
But that was out of their reach.
Their first home in North Dakota was a 20-foot, 1977 “piece of crap” RV they parked on a farm. Seven families shared one outhouse and two electrical outlets.
Since August, they’ve been in a newer camper – a 31-foot camper with a slideout – in an RV park along Highway 2 north of Williston.
It’s not fancy – there’s no grass or playground equipment and the approximately 100 trailers are parked fairly close together. But there they have water and sewer hookups, and access to three washers, three dryers and three showers in a community building.
They have a shower in their RV, but it’s tiny and the vehicle only has an 8-gallon hot water heater.
“You can still take a pretty good hot shower,” Angelia said. “You just have to hurry up.”
They celebrated their anniversary by getting a hotel room just so they could soak in a bathtub.
Jayson and Angelia have a bedroom and Steven sleeps on a couch that folds into a bed.
“It’s pretty comfortable,” Angelia said. “It’s just the cold air that comes in through the floors.”
To keep out the cold, they hang blankets in front of the doors and have plastic on the windows. They’ve placed heat lamps under the camper and used plywood skirting to keep out the wind.
They’ve heard about last winter and feel lucky this one has been mild. But even this winter has had days that get so cold the refrigerator stops working and their clothes freeze to the walls in the closets.
After it warms up, the inside of the camper defrosts and condensation drips from the light fixtures, including the one above their bed.
But as hard as it can be to share that RV, the family is grateful to be together. Many of Jayson’s co-workers left their families at home.
“What kind of life is that? I see all these guys staying here one, two, three months and never seeing their families,” Jayson said.
The family is hanging in there because they’re getting closer to paying off the RV, which will make monthly expenses easier. And Jayson has been told that work will start to pick up this month.
But they expect they’ll be forced to leave if they can’t find better housing by next winter.
“We came here with intentions of staying,” Jayson said. “Becoming North Dakotans.”
“And we can’t afford to,” Angelia said.
Breakdown of the Jarvis family's living expenses
<•> $1,000 payment toward the $10,000 RV, a 2004 model
<•> $800 lot rental
<•> $360 propane
<•> $165 electricity during winter months to run two space heaters
<•> $58 electricity during summer months
<•> $60 storage unit rental