Adventures in Housing

For one Denver couple, home is a 25-foot RV

Amy Scott May 26, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Rebecca and Michael Nunziato live in an RV in Denver, with a cat, dog and hedgehog. Courtesy Michael and Rebecca Nunziato
Adventures in Housing

For one Denver couple, home is a 25-foot RV

Amy Scott May 26, 2020
Rebecca and Michael Nunziato live in an RV in Denver, with a cat, dog and hedgehog. Courtesy Michael and Rebecca Nunziato
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If you’ve been feeling cooped up at home during the pandemic, imagine quarantining in an RV. And not in some remote campground in the woods, but in the middle of a city. That’s the situation Rebecca and Michael Nunziato have found themselves in these past few months, in Denver, Colorado.

To help illustrate what it’s like to live in 200 square feet, during a recent interview, Michael grabbed a tape measure.

“Okay, so you’re going to sit on the bed, and you’re going to measure from the bed to the kitchen sink,” Becca instructed.

“We’re at 58 inches, so under five feet,” he said.

And from there to the bathroom?

“That’s under four feet,” he said.

“It’s always negotiating how we walk past each other,” Becca said, “If Michael’s doing dishes, I have to be like, ‘Can I please go to the bathroom?’”

The maneuvering doesn’t stop there. Also living in the RV are a cat, Rumi, a dog, Miko, and a hedgehog named Francie.

Francie the hedgehog.
Francie the hedgehog. (Courtesy Michael and Rebecca Nunziato)

Francie is no bigger than a softball, but her digs are palatial. She lives in the bathtub, with Becca’s clothes hanging from a rod overhead. Her share of the utility bill isn’t small either.

“Hedgehogs have to be kept at 75 degrees Fahrenheit or more,” said Becca. “So we could be pretty happy with blankets and sweatshirts, but the hedgehog does need a heater running constantly.”

Fortunately, Becca and Michael, both 27, can shower at the house where they park. To understand how the couple got to this place, you need to know a little about the housing market in Denver. In a word, it’s been booming.

Two-and-a-half years ago, they had an apartment near downtown, paying $1,200 in rent, and climbing.

“There was no way we were going to buy a house and we had started thinking about alternatives,” said Michael.

His grandparents had been RV types, and he and Becca were drawn to a simpler life with a smaller environmental footprint. So, the alternative they chose was a 2017 Jay Flight travel trailer, with big swoops of black and gray on the outside and maple cabinets and a reclining sofa on the inside. Pricetag: $15,000. They got a loan from their credit union.

“Our payments come out to less than 300 bucks a month, so it’s really manageable,” he said. “Basically, a car payment for a house.”

In the beginning, they parked in a friend’s driveway, paying a few hundred dollars for the space, plus electricity and water. But about six months in, “we got reported to the city,” Becca said. “A neighbor across the street apparently was unhappy about us living in our RV on the driveway.”

“The good thing about a home on wheels is that within an hour and a half, we were out of there,” Michael said.

Now they’re paying another friend to park in a fenced backyard, in an undisclosed location. They covered the windows so the RV doesn’t glow at night.

The Nunziatos live year-round in their 25-foot trailer, paying $400-500 a month to park in a backyard in Denver.
The Nunziatos live year-round in their 25-foot trailer, paying $400-500 a month to park in a backyard in Denver. (Courtesy Michael and Rebecca Nunziato)

If you’ve heard about the whole #vanlife trend, with young couples camping in a different scenic spot every few days and posting glamor shots on Instagram — this is not that. They’ve actually only camped once. It is Colorado, so they have a view of the snow-capped Rockies from the yard.

“But I have to look through the alley and the car lot and a bunch of power lines,” Michael said.

“We hear gunshots and firecrackers and car mufflers and sometimes whoever just decides to wander down the alley,” said Becca. “It’s a lot of urban living.”

Someone tried to break in once while Michael was at work and Becca was sleeping. She just froze.

“I did not want to call the police because I was afraid that I would get in trouble for living in the RV,” she said.

Eventually, the person went away.

Sheltering at home during the pandemic has been just another part of the experience. There are days when the trailer feels too small. Michael likes to cook, and there’s zero counter space.

“And if you don’t do the dishes immediately, they take over,” he said. “When you can see your whole house from anywhere you sit, you will always see the dishes.”

That doesn’t bother Becca as much, which creates its own tensions. Her struggle is shopping for shoes and clothes. Remember, she shares her bathtub/closet with a hedgehog.

“Literally, Francie will probably suffocate if I hang too many clothes, and the whole bar falls on her head,” she said. “So I have to keep it in check.”

Becca’s been able to work from home, directing a podcast incubator for women of color. Michael was furloughed from his job managing a coffee shop in downtown Denver, and collected unemployment until he went back last week. It helps that all in they’re paying less than half what they spent living in an apartment.

“Having lower monthly expenses and also having some savings has meant that we’re really grateful that we haven’t been put into as bad of a position as a lot of people,” he said.

Soon, though, the adventure may come to an end. Becca’s been accepted to Harvard Divinity School. She wants to study decolonial spirituality. If the campus is open in the fall, the plan is to haul the Jay Flight to Cambridge. But without a network of friends to fall back on, they’re not sure they’ll be able to park in a new city.

“It’ll probably go back to being a recreational vehicle, and we’ll probably move back into an apartment,” Michael said. “But we will have it forever.”

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