Jeremy Michelson starts a generator beside the bus where he lives with his wife, Taylor Michelson, and their dogs. The bus is no longer running and is too expensive for them to have fixed. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

It was late 2020 when Jeremy and Taylor Michelson got an eviction notice from their Portland landlord telling them to move out because the building was being remodeled.

They spent nearly four months searching Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for a new apartment with no luck. So they came up with an alternative plan: buy and renovate an old school bus to live in.

They got one off Facebook with the $4,500 they had saved up.

It seemed like a fun idea at the time, and it solved their immediate need for a place to live.

But they didn’t think they’d still be on the bus two years later. Now they’re stuck. The bus broke down and can’t be moved without costly repairs. And the housing market has only gotten worse.

Parked along Marginal Way just across from the U-Haul facility where they store most of their belongings, their only neighbors are the empty moving trucks that line the road.


“It’s better than being in a tent, but it’s not what everyone made it seem like. Like it’s easy to just buy a school bus and (live in it),” said Jeremy Michelson, 31. “It’s not easy at all. And it kind of sucks. It’s hot in the summer. It’s cold in the winter.”

A report released last June from Harvard University found that after an initial downturn at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, rents nationwide surged in 2021 and early 2022. At the same time, vacancy rates hit all-time lows, and demand for apartments has rebounded faster than supply increases.

MaineHousing lists the fair market rent for a one-bedroom in the Portland metro area at $1,448. The agency has said the state is 20,000 to 25,000 units short of what it needs to end an affordable housing shortage.

And wait lists for affordable housing continue to grow. Avesta saw its waitlist nearly double in the last two years – from 4,715 in 2020 to 8,836 in 2022 – and 43% of applicants were homeless.

As a result, many people are sleeping outdoors. Just blocks from where the Michelsons have parked their bus, people are living out of more than 30 tents set up at a park-and-ride.

Despite continuing to look for an apartment, they haven’t had any luck finding a place that would allow their dogs and is within their budget of about $1,500. And living on the bus has been more expensive than the Michelsons expected. They’ve paid nearly $6,000 in parking tickets.


“It just seems like things come up all the time that makes it hard to put money aside,” said Taylor Michelson, 29.

Jeremy Michelson in the bus with his friend Shawn Luedders, laying down. The Michelsons found the bus for sale on Facebook Marketplace. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer


The couple and their friend Shawn Luedders, who has been living with them since April, say they’re luckier than some, but life on the bus also isn’t easy. The Michelsons’ two boxers, Moose and Groot, make the small space feel even more cramped.

They took out the bus seats and put in a wood floor. A wall separates the living space from the bedroom, which doubles as a kitchen with a two-burner gas stove.

The main space has a mattress on the floor where Luedders has been sleeping and a television powered by a generator that buzzes loudly outside the bus.

Blankets hang in the windows instead of curtains. There’s a mini fridge, but it no longer works, so they use a cooler to store food.


The space is filled with a suitcase, bicycles, and a fan. An ashtray sits on the floor.

On one of several weekly trips to Hannaford, they stocked up on paper plates and plastic silverware – necessities on the bus, since they don’t have an easy way to wash dishes.

“It’s hard seeing (my friends) in trouble,” said Luedders, who came to stay with the Michelsons after a falling out with a roommate over his drinking. “I try to help out as much as I can, but it sucks.”

The couple have mixed feelings about the situation. “It felt promising at first and like it could be an adventure,” Taylor Michelson said.

But she said the excitement wore off quickly with the lack of space, difficulty heating and cooling the bus and storing food, and lack of running water (they shower at Jeremy’s brother’s apartment and use the bathroom at U-Haul.)

“It could be good, but it’s not as easy as people may think it is,” Taylor Michelson said, adding that she is eager to get into an apartment, but they don’t have enough money saved up.


“It just got really hard once the bus broke down,” she said. “That alone would be a few thousand dollars to fix it. We would have to do the work here, which I don’t know if we could, and if we had to have it moved we don’t have a place to go.”

Jeremy Michelson, 31, and Taylor Michelson, 29, walk to a public fountain to get fresh water earlier this month. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

A recent housing report in Portland said the city is on track to exceed its goal of adding 2,557 units between 2017 and 2027, though the report also noted that the cost of housing in Portland is continuing to escalate. The city has about 35,356 housing units total, according to the 2022 Housing Report, and about 52%, or 18,358 units, are renter-occupied.

Moving into an apartment usually requires a deposit and the first and last months’ rent. That can quickly add up to several thousand dollars. Portland’s rent control laws limit the security deposit to no more than one month’s rent, though the Michelsons have expanded their search to include neighboring towns.

Jeremy Michelson said he’s been looking for places, but “everything I find is extremely expensive, or they don’t allow dogs.”

“It’s difficult,” he said. “This isn’t really what I want to be doing.”



Luedders works security at bars in the Old Port. Taylor Michelson is a baker at a group of local restaurants. Jeremy Michelson doesn’t work; he had a job at an exhaust shop but quit after his car was totaled in a crash about a year ago, leaving him without a ride to work.

He used the insurance money to buy a truck, but it had engine problems and he was also getting parking tickets on it, so he sold it to someone who needed the parts.

Finding someplace he can get to without a car is difficult. He had a lead on a landscaping job last month, but that didn’t work out, so he’s currently looking for something else.

The couple has consistently paid their parking tickets since their starter broke. The tickets arrive almost daily. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The couple also tries to ensure that one of them is always home to watch over the bus and their belongings.

Parking tickets are another problem. When they decided to park the bus on Marginal Way, it seemed like an out-of-the-way spot to park a big vehicle. They just had to move it during the day. But soon the starter broke, and the tickets piled up.

The city’s rules prohibit parking any boat, camper, trailer, recreational vehicle, or similar vehicles on any street for more than 24 hours in seven days. And they’ve received tickets for violating street maintenance restrictions during the winter months.


Jeremy Michelson acknowledges that they’re breaking the rules, and he isn’t mad at the city for the parking tickets – which he said come on a near-daily basis.

“It kind of sucks, but I know they’re just doing their jobs,” he said one day shortly after a city worker pulled up in a truck and stuck a ticket on the side of the bus.

The Michelsons regularly pay for their tickets, which have added up to $5,910 since July 2022, city spokesperson Jessica Grondin said. As of Thursday, they owed $50, she said.

Normally the city might try to tow a repeat offender, but Grondin said they haven’t been able to in the Michelsons’ case.

“I believe it was because we weren’t able to find a tow company who could tow something that large,” she said in an email.



As the sun was setting on a recent evening, the couple made a trek to a nearby fountain to bring water back to the bus. Then Luedders and Jeremy Michelson took off for their nightly routine of checking the U-Haul vehicles to make sure no one has broken into them.

Living across from the business, Michelson said he struck up a friendship with some of the employees, and they asked him if he wouldn’t mind doing nightly checks. “I’m up late anyway,” he said as he walked the rows of empty trucks with a flashlight.

If all goes well, the Michelsons hope they can get out of the bus and rent space in a friend’s garage to live in, possibly starting at the end of the summer.

Jeremy Michelson said he has another friend, a diesel mechanic, who has expressed interest in the bus. Michelson said he would probably just give it to him.

“I told him … if this works out, I’m done with it,” he said.

In the long term, Taylor Michelson said they still want an apartment, and maybe one day a house.

“Mostly for now we have to focus on the short-term goal of stabilizing,” she said. “That would be a hope and dream.”

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