Happy campers: mobile home dwellers flocking to live beneath Gowanus Expressway!

Camper community: Billie Dumont bought an RV under the expressway, and plans to move in once he’s finished renovating it.
Photo by Rose Adams

Talk about life on the road!

A small community of recreational vehicle dwellers have turned a stretch of public parking beneath the Gowanus Expressway into an unofficial trailer park, and it’s getting bigger by the month!

“Everyone knows each other,” said Bobby Zero, a local repairman who services most of the vehicles. “Every month you come by, there’s a new one.” 

The RV owners began parking their mobile living quarters on Third Avenue between 20th and 30th streets five years ago, according to Zero, who said that between 15 and 30 trailers now sit in the parking lots at any given time — many equipped with electric generators and water tanks. 

Many of the inhabitants are single men, but the area also houses a family from Jamaica and a man who uses his camper as a weekend bachelor pad to get away from his wife, according to one resident.

Most of the RV dwellers took to the mobile refuges to avoid skyrocketing local rents, said Zero, who claimed that residents purchased their trailers for as little as $500.

“I wanted to go see a studio apartment. You know how much they were asking for? $2,400,” he said. “I’m in the market myself for an RV.” 

Others say they simply enjoy the freedom of camper-living, like Billie Dumont — who plans to move into his RV once he installs a bathroom and a kitchen.

“I’ve always liked the idea of living in RVs,” said Dumont, who works as a delivery man. “One, it’s your house. And two, you can move it anywhere you want.”

People — and pets — live in many of the RVs parked under the Gowanus Expressway.
Photo by Trey Pentecost

And Third Avenue, which cuts through Sunset Park beneath the Gowanus Expressway, provides campers with a low-key spot — the surrounding sidewalks are lined with warehouses, auto body shops, and the remnants of neighborhood’s notorious red light district.

Still, some local business owners have voiced their annoyance with the onslaught of trailers. 

Matthew Walters, who runs the Momma Tried watering hole on 27th Street and Third Avenue, called the campers “an eyesore” and “a little bit creepy” — but said that he’s not actively trying to push them out.

“I met some of the owners, and they’re nice enough,” Walters said. 

The RV owners agree that they’d rather not live beneath the noisy highway, but the locale is one of the few spots in the city where they can park for free without getting ticketed.

City laws require RVs parked on residential streets to move every 24 hours, but the local police only ticket the campers if they don’t move for alternate side parking once a week, according to Zero. 

While the underpass doesn’t make for an ideal living space, the residents work to make it a livable area — coming together on Saturday mornings to help sanitation workers sweep the parking lots, and sticking up for one another, according to Dumont.

“We don’t know each other well, but we look out for each other,” he said.

One RV owner helps sweep the parking lot during Saturday’s street cleaning.
Photo by Trey Pentecost