She couldn't find a rental in N.L. So she spent 2 years living in a 20-foot RV

Kathryn Hewlett's entire life has been packed into a 20-foot-long vehicle. She isn't the only one in that situation.

Vacancy rates in the province dropped from 7% in 2019 to 3% today, says housing advocate

A woman wearing an orange jacket smiles for a photograph while holding her dog.
Kathryn Hewlett has been living in an RV for two years because she could not find a rental property she could afford in either New Jersey or Newfoundland. (Submitted by Kathryn Hewlett)

For two years, Kathryn Hewlett's entire life has been packed into a 20-foot-long vehicle. She has a small bed, a bathroom, a stove and a dining table crammed within feet of each other.

She's constantly roaming, looking for the next place to park. While she's grateful to have a roof over her head, she wants a stable place she can call home.

"It's come to this point where I can't continue psychologically, I can't continue doing this as I've been doing for two years," said Hewlett, who is originally from Pennsylvania and currently lives full time in an RV in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Moving the camper, staying here, staying there. My body's getting tired."

Hewlett is part of an increasing number of people in the province, and the country, struggling to find an affordable place to live, says Hope Jamieson, an affordable housing consultant and researcher in St. John's.

A photograph of the inside of a cramped RV, with a bed, table and stove.
The inside of Hewlett's RV. She says she has had many different living arrangements over the past two years, including parking in family members' driveways. (Submitted by Kathryn Hewlett)

Jamieson said average rent prices in the province — and the country more broadly — have grown at around twice the rate as the average household income in the last 15 years. The last time a household in a major Canadian city could afford to buy a home based on median income, they said, was around two decades ago.

What's more, says Jamieson, a lack of affordable housing is in part due to the lack of supply.

Newfoundland and Labrador's vacancy rate has dropped from around seven per cent in 2019 to just under three per cent today, leaving many people with limited options. In some cases, the only viable option is being to pack up the home and take it on the road.

"There are a lot more people looking for a place to rent at an affordable rate and a lot more people looking to maximize their return on investment by increasing rents to whatever they think the market will bear," said Jamieson.

"That's the system that we've set up, and it's failing people."

'I want to settle down'

Hewlett recently secured a one-year lease for a property in Triton beginning in August, a small town in central Newfoundland, but that was only after two years of searching.

In 2021, Hewlett left her job managing a building for a non-profit in New Jersey, which she says left her overworked and unsupported. The building was also the place she called home. So when she left her job, she was left both jobless and homeless.

That's when she packed up her things, put most of them in storage, and with help from family, began living in an RV full time.

An RV sits outside beside a tree lit up with LED lights under the night sky.
Hewlett says the camper isn’t always economical. For instance, she says she spent $1,500 on maintenance costs for her trailer this spring. (Submitted by Kathryn Hewlett)

"The camper was a survival technique," said Hewlett, adding the camper is under her daughter's name. "It gave me a place to go when I needed to get out. It's been that kind of lifeline for me."

Hewlett has dual citizenship and took her camper from the United States to Newfoundland and Labrador, where most of her family is from.

Over the past two years, she has had many different living arrangements, she said, in both the U.S. and in Newfoundland. She has parked her RV in family members' driveways and RV parks, she has worked on a farm on the island's west coast in exchange for a place to stay, and she has found temporary accommodations in winter rental properties.

"I want to settle down," said Hewlett, her voice cracking through tears. "I need my own space."

An affordable alternative?

Danielle Steiner told CBC News she also can't find a rental.

She and her husband, David Janzen, are living in a 22-foot-long camper full time at an RV park in Mount Pearl. They moved to the province from Vancouver Island, because Janzen was going back to school and they couldn't afford to live off one salary in the communities where he planned on attending school in B.C.

What they didn't realize was just how limited their living options would be elsewhere.

A man and a woman smile for a selfie standing in front of an RV.
David Janzen, left, and Danielle Steiner are living in a 22-foot-long camper full time at an RV park in Mount Pearl. (Submitted by Danielle Steiner)

"When we were looking at rentals out here, we didn't really realize how much of a crisis there was as far as quite the demand," said Steiner. "There's a lot of demand in B.C., but it is just really swollen out here."

Steiner said the only realistic option is living in a camping trailer right now. 

She said she and her husband enjoy RV life but it's not necessarily more cost-effective than a rental property. They pay about $1,000 a month during the summer to stay at the campgrounds in Mount Pearl, and another $200 during the winter.

A blonde person wearing red lipstick and a red blouse poses for a picture.
Hope Jamieson, an affordable housing consultant and researcher in St. John’s, says say average rent prices in the province, and the country more broadly, have grown at about twice the rate of that of the average household income in the last 15 years. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

There are also other challenges that come with living in campers. 

For instance, Hewlett said, she spent $1,500 on maintenance for her trailer this spring.

"If I had money and was choosing to live in a camper, I'd be all over the place," said Hewlett. "But I'm not in that position. I'm in the position that I need a home to live."

Homelessness rates skyrocketing

It's unclear how many people in the province are living in RVs full time, said Jamieson, but according to numbers released by End Homelessness St. John's, homelessness in the city has gone up by 63 per cent in the last year.

The reasons for this increase are varied. Higher rent is partly due to a lack of rent control legislation in the province, Jamieson said.

There's no cap on the amount by which a landlord can increase rent, they said — the only caveat is landlords have to give tenants six months' notice.

Jamieson said the province needs to address the lack of rent control legislation and invest in more community-based housing.

"We've been relying on the private market for 30 years, and it has not solved the problem," said Jamieson.

"So I think continuing to repeat those same patterns and expecting something to change doesn't make a lot of sense."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Jessica Singer is a journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador. She has worked in CBC newsrooms in Toronto and St. John's. You can reach her at

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