Shipping Containers As Affordable Rental Homes
Shipping containers may well be the answer for city planners who seek to create a more mixed society in their urban areas. Containers can be converted into accommodation cheaply and set onto site in a fraction of the time that their bricks and mortar equivalent can be, and as such can bring the investment in the land to income generation in a relatively short period of time.
Whether tackling a town’s homeless problem or helping people afford somewhere in an area whose market rents are far beyond that of those on low or even middle incomes, shipping container accommodation gives real solutions to the problem of high urban rents. This piece will look at a range of solutions at the lower rental end of the spectrum where developers have used container based accommodation to meet housing needs.
Homeless people’s homes in Brighton, England
In the UK, there is a sizeable and growing homeless population due to private rents becoming far too high for those on the lowest incomes. The government has imposed caps on the amount it will subsidise people on low incomes’ rents, and from 2017 a single mother with two or more children will not be able to afford any private rental housing in most urban areas in the UK.
Where children will always be looked after the state (no government wants the Dickens tale Oliver Twist to become reality) single people frequently fall through the net in such situations where they can’t find work due to personal problems such as disability and addiction, and housing welfare benefits can’t meet the cost of the market rent.
Brighton Housing Trust is a social housing provider that has come up with a solution for the most destitute in the town. Working with QED Property it has built a block of apartments out of 40ft containers that may well end up halving the street homeless problem in Brighton. Thirty-six containers have been put together in a complex that is on a former scrapyard. There are around 70 registered homeless people in Brighton, and this should significantly tackle the homelessness problem there.
For those lucky enough to be housed in the container complex this is often just the start they need. They only pay around 30% of the market rent for their home, which is effectively a studio apartment with a kitchen, bathroom and living area with a window at one end. It provides a base from which to get a job and eventually get a suitable home away from the complex as they rebuild their lives from rock bottom. As such they aren’t expected to live there long term, though the system is built around the very complex issues that homeless people often have that led them to live on the streets in the first place.
As with many cities around the world, there is only limited space for residential housing – and where the local housing plan offers that space it is quickly filled up with homes at the local market rent. Brighton Housing Trust has got around this with one of the strengths of a shipping container – its portability. The housing association has permission for the containers to be on site for five years and then will have to move them onto another site. Where no developer would wish to build a complex that lasts only five years, the main expense has already been spent on the housing and after five years they can be loaded up on trucks and shifted to the next temporary area.
Private San Francisco solution to skyrocketing rents
You don’t have to be a crack addict to be homeless in the modern world. Those who can afford good housing are willing to pay for it and with a growing middle class, many people simply get priced out of the rental housing market not because they are destitute but because they just aren’t paid enough by their ordinary jobs. As such, in cities the world over there is a real need for cheap, comfortable housing for people who make city living possible – cleaners, waitresses, junior office staff and city government employees. Though a street full of IT professionals earning six figure salaries may look pretty you need policemen, ambulance and firemen to make their lives safe and comfortable – a fireman doesn’t get a six figure salary in any dollar currency, and these people need housing in order for the city to operate.
The average rent for a one bedroomed apartment in San Francisco is US$3,500 a month. Just to pay the rent in the city you would need to have an income after tax of US$42,000 a year. If you’re a student, artist, young professional or any ordinary blue collar worker, this is completely beyond your range. As a result there is a serious housing problem in the city, and no one has come up with an effective solution until recently. One couple had a brainwave to live in a shipping container, and then to turn their own housing solution into a business.
Containertopia was the brainchild of a couple who could not afford the $2,300 rent for their tiny home in the city and made the decision to buy a shipping container and rent half an acre of disused land on which to site it. Their outgoings on their home plummeted to $600 a month as a result – far closer to an affordable rent than they could get elsewhere.
Luke Iseman and Heather Stewart spent $12,000 converting the container into a habitable home, and now live simply in a weather tight and comfortable, yet small space, in Oakland. Iseman, a 32 year old IT professional said of his home, “It’s pretty much my dream, post-apocalyptic, cyber punk set up.”
Their own home has a queen sized bed and a large window, though their composting toilet may not appeal to everyone who wants to downsize their rents in a high cost city.
Spotting an opportunity for fellow young professionals, the couple got together a group of friends to buy a plot of land for $425,000 and a number of other containers for others to live in at affordable rents. The land sadly wasn’t zoned by the city authorities for residential accommodation and after a complaint by another local, they were forced to move the community into a warehouse they have rented. They now use the land they bought to grow vegetables to feed those living in their community.
See the video below for more information:
Affordable housing in Edmonton, Canada
Developers around the world have noticed the speed and cost advantages of setting up a shipping container rental development. For a relatively low cost they can be bought second hand and converted into housing off-site before being delivered to a small footprint of land, and made habitable very quickly.
The cost of converting shipping containers into accommodation, even where multiple containers are put together for a larger space, is low by comparison to a traditional bricks and mortar home. They can be built in a factory environment away from the vagaries of the weather and then erected very quickly on site. These make for cost savings that feed into the eventual price of the development. A container home complex costs considerably less to build than its equivalent traditionally built home, and even in a desirable area, rents can be suppressed to allow a city’s essential workers to reside close to their place of work. Firemen and policemen, rubbish collection workers and hospital staff can all live without expensive commutes to work in the community.
This has been recognised by developers in Edmonton, Canada who are developing the downtown site of an old hotel to meet the needs of locals. Engelman Construction specialises in what they term ‘infill projects’ and ‘densification projects’. Infill projects are one for one replacement homes, where densification projects are where people can put a shipping container home, for example, into their gardens – adding residential space to existing land. In doing so, they can put a low cost home onto their property and rent it out to someone who might not be able to afford to live in the area normally.
In the case of the York Hotel project, Engelman bought the land from the city government and will pay partly in cash from their rentals and sales, but partly by giving some of the units they have built to the city council to help meet their low cost housing needs. This ‘give some / take some’ approach enables developers to build a mixed development with a reduced outlay for the land that they are building upon.
Floating student accommodation
Some cities have almost run out of space on land so are looking at ways of putting residential accommodation on the water. This is in the face of a slow moving environmental disaster that is overwhelming many waterfront cities around the world – sea level rise that is coming from climate change. Homes by the waterfront that are being built today are often floating homes as a result.
Denmark and New York based BIG architects have developed a new student housing scheme that is set on a barge in Copenhagen Harbour. It is essentially 15 studio apartments set at angles around a central courtyard space with glass interconnects that join the student homes together. There is indoor social space in the courtyard in the covered middle so they can fraternise in the cold Northern European months while during the summer the students have access to the roof space to enjoy a beery evening together on the city’s waterfront.
These answer a real housing need. Education is a major industry in many big cities, and young students often bring vibrancy and life to what could be a quiet and socially moribund middle class neighbourhood. Students are at the stage of their lives where they cannot or do not wish to live from their parents’ purse strings yet also need to live near where they learn so need cheaper rental accommodation. Meeting student housing needs is therefore an important social service to cities that might otherwise price the life out of themselves.
Container housing – mixing society
It has been widely held among society’s thinkers over the years that it is important to mix people of different incomes in an area. The corner shop checkout assistant is not going to be on a six figure salary and is equally needed in an area as the millionaire IT business owner who owns a trendy penthouse near their peers. Where the IT business owner may even pay for their property in cash, the convenience store checkout assistant will need to rent somewhere nearby.
Shipping containers are cheap to convert into housing and can be built very quickly. Being cheap to build, rents can be repressed even while generating an income and return that would meet the needs of most property development business plans. Some designs shown here don’t even need to be permanent constructions. As a result they are a very good solution to very real social issues brought about by skyrocketing rents in many urban areas around the globe.
Gateway Container Sales
This blog is brought to you by Gateway Container Sales. Based in Brisbane, Australia, we can help you with whatever shipping container based solution you require. We have a network of experts who can help you design and build shipping container accommodation to nearly every finish you desire from the basic social housing end of the spectrum to the very luxury end of the concept. Give us a call today or email us to discuss your needs.