Our new series, “New York Unfiltered,” goes underground to take a look at some of the city’s colorful personalities you don’t hear about, who are hiding in plain sight.
In Part 1, Ruschell Boone checks out the city’s cypher scene, which helps foster beats and rhymes you may not hear elsewhere.
“You want to come inside and take a look?” says Sergio Villarroel, ushering us into his home. He and his girlfriend, Fiama Rabacioli, are living the van life.
They converted an old FedEx truck into their full-time living space.
To them, this unconventional living arrangement didn’t come to fruition out of necessity, per say. It was a choice.
“Everyone has a similar mindset about why they’re doing this,” Villarroel says. “They are trying to escape the rent or they are trying to escape to a minimalist kind of lifestyle.”
Sergio and Fiama aren’t the only ones doing this. Not by a long shot. In fact, there are vans-turned-homes parked all over Williamsburg. And theirs isn’t even the only one on their block.
“I just saw them strolling by,” says Villarroel, referring to his neighbor. “I think there is one who has lived here for about five months. He lives with two dogs.”
Living in converted vans and trucks is a way of life for these people in Williamsburg. They try to blend into the environment, but a community wherein people offer advice and support to one another has cropped up nonetheless.
“We meet a lot of interesting people,” says Patrick Giodano, who turned an old van into a living space for him and his two dogs.
“I don’t know how so many random people seem to find this spot. We met a pair of couples traveling through, and there are probably another four or five people besides them that kind of cycle through the area,” he says, referring to Williamsburg.
One question we had for them: How does law enforcement deal with these four-wheeled homes in a city where parking spots are few and far between?
“On the internet, you find certain spots where people kind of help each other and tell them that, ‘You can leave your car here. You’re not going to get a ticket. If you leave it here, the police are going to come and bother you,’” Villarroel says.
Living this simple lifestyle is a necessity for some, and a choice for many others.
“We have a guy who is a programmer making over six figures,” says Patrick. “Some people work in the hospitality business nearby in Williamsburg. We have the transient people who pass through like the couples.”
Sergio Villarroel is originally from Colorado. He met Fiama two years ago in Argentina.
“She is [an economist] and has a finance major. I’m a software developer. We both work online doing small gigs here and there. We don’t need much,” says Sergio.
Although they utilize a gym membership to shower and use the bathroom, they say things can get complicated.
“The first day we parked near McCarren, our car broke, so, basically, our house got stranded in the middle of the street,” says Sergio.
Over in Jersey City, Sean Bradley is transforming an old school bus into a home. They’re called “Skoolies.”
He is also planning to park it in Williamsburg.
How big is his space?
“From front to back, it’s about 14 to 15 feet and then side to side, we are looking at seven to eight feet,” Sean says.
Sean is a marketing manager by day and construction worker at night, creating his new home piece by piece.
“It’s always been around that people want to live as simple as possible,” Sean says. “I think one thing that’s highlighted it is, you know, rising rents. College debt probably is a big part of it.”
Most of the cost is in the materials.
“The bus itself you’re looking at around, like, $3,000 to $5,000. And all the interior build-outs another, like, $2,000 or $3,000,” Sean says.
But Sean’s not giving up his apartment just yet. He says he needs to make it through the winter first — a big challenge, even for some of the most experienced people living on the streets.