CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Everyone who lives in Charlottesville knows it's expensive. However, a University of Virginia student found a way around shelling out thousands of dollars a year to live near UVA Grounds.

The median rent in Charlottesville is a little more than $1,600 a month. Liam Flaherty knew that was too much, so he went looking for an alternative way to live in the city virtually for free.

“I didn't know a lot of people,” Flaherty said. “I was sort of in a pinch on my housing. I was going to be paying a bunch of money to live far away from where all my friends were living. So, I figured it was time for a more creative solution.”

That search for a solution led him to an online ad: Soon enough, Flaherty found himself with the keys to his new home.

“It turned out... it turned out alright,” he said with a laugh.

Flaherty bought a 1999 Ford Econoline van for $700.

“When I came driving it back into town, it was obviously in pretty rough shape,” said Flaherty. “People had their doubts.”

He enlisted the help of fellow UVA student Madeleine Faunce to turn his van into a home.

“He actually came up to me in the dining hall and was like, 'Maddie, I have a housing plan.’ I was like, ‘what is it?’ He's like, "I'm going to live in a van.’ And I was like, "um",’” she said.

The friends spent two weeks over the summer working from early morning until late night to renovate the van.

“There were some things we were going to try to do that we realized halfway through they weren't going to work and we didn't have the engineering skills required to pull it off,” Flaherty recalled.

“I could see it from the beginning. I actually didn't think it was going to turn out this nice,” said Faunce.

Flaherty parks his home outside his fraternity house. The van is wired with halogen lights, WiFi, heating and air conditioning, which are all plugged in to the fraternity's power.

“Most of the space in the van is dedicated to shelving all my clothes,” Flaherty said. “We tried to make use of all the space we had in the van since it's such a small space.”

Flaherty has figured out the quirks that come with van life, like hunching over to move around and having to leave to use the restroom.

“You start to get the details of it down, and I know to bring my certain things with me in the morning, and I've gotten used to it at this point and it's really doable,” he said.

Flaherty has gotten so used to the van, that he turned down an offer to move into a room in his fraternity.

“I was actually pretty concerned about what people were going to think about the fact I was living in a van at first, but, I quickly got over that. I found a lot of people thought it was pretty cool and I became pretty proud of it myself,” said the third-year student.

Flaherty plans to drive his home cross-country for a summer job in San Francisco, which has the most expensive rent in the country. As for next school year, Flaherty has earned a prestigious room on the UVA Lawn.


Statement from the University of Virginia about how it works with students to find housing options:

Students’ financial circumstances sometimes change throughout the year, including after financial aid awards have been made. In these cases, the university works with students to determine what additional support it can offer to help the student stay focused on their academics and ease their financial worries. This support varies depending on the students’ needs and may involve several departments, including offices within Student Affairs and partners in Student Financial Services, Housing, and Dining.

Approximately 6,800 students lived on [UVA] Grounds in 2018-19, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. To this point, we have been able to accommodate all first- and second-year students who are required to or wish to live on [UVA] Grounds. The university has been working on renovating and expanding on Grounds housing options so that we can accommodate additional students in the future.