Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Shipping Container & Tiny Homes, Can They Help Solve the Low Cost Housing Crisis?





Candidate for AT LARGE, DC COUNCIL, November 8, 2016 General Election, Statehood Green Party candidate.  Remember, you can vote for two At Large candidates.  Only one can be a Democrat.

The lack of low cost housing is one of our major problems in DC. We are now growing at the rate of 1,000 new people a month. [July 2015 - That no longer appears to be true, some say only 500 a month.  Lack of low cost housing for young people is no doubt a factor.  Once settled in MD or VA, they are less like to move to DC.]  It is becoming harder and harder to find moderately priced (affordable) housing, and almost impossible to find low cost housing. I have already written about this elsewhere on my blog.

That article on March 17, 2014 titled DC Low Income Housing Needs New Ideas points out that if the city keeps raising annual property assessments 10% and more, a mere 2% increase in rents will soon drive owners out of the rental market. Owners are faced with increased taxes every time a neighbor renovates their home. If one has not installed granite counters, stainless steel appliances, and fancy tiled bathrooms, why should the tax assessment be raised in parallel with the neighbor's fancy new house?

Therefore, if the Council continues to permit the 2% increase, they should also limit the increase for unimproved homes to no more than 2%. The increase in market value can be raised at time of sale at the actual market price.

I also wrote about the move to promote very small homes. These can work well as single units, but what of locations where apartment buildings make more sense or there is a high volume of need. Now I see a possible new solution: SHIPPING CONTAINER HOMES (Google that for many interesting articles).  In addition, the Google site “Shipping Container Home Plans" has hundreds of photos of home plans and actual buildings, some of which are multistory, multifamily.

 Recently, TV news reported on a multistory building going up at Catholic University to house students. We should plan to build similar structures in other parts of the city. The containers come in 20 and 40 foot lengths, are 8 feet wide, and 8'6” or 9'6” high. The photos mentioned above show many possible configurations using 1 and more units.  The above photo shows a 5 story structure.  Also a structure being built.

For ease of construction and mobility of units multistory steel frameworks could be designed and individual units inserted. The city could allow leasing of plots of land for 10, 20 and even longer periods of years for erection of these frameworks. Thus people could buy their own low cost unit and it could subsequently be moved to another part of the city if they change jobs or want to be closer to family.  If a renter's economics improve or they are able to get funding from a bank or home ownership program, such units could even be permanently located on a foundation or pad. Thus the nearly universal wish for a home of ones own could be made available to many more people than is possible today.

At the recent Anacostia High School Mayoral Forum, I spoke with a vendor of "Street Sense" a newspaper by and for the homeless.  I told him about the concept and described one of the 20 foot unit plans that had a bathroom with shower, and a kitchenette with an undercounter refrigerator.  He said, "That is all I want, just a little place to call my own with a lock on the door."  When I said I believe that a small unit like that could be built for $20,000 to $30,000, he became very excited.

Checking mortgage rates for such a 20 foot unit, I calculated various costs for a $30,000 unit.  A 15 year mortgage at 4.5% would cost $230 per month.  A 20 year mortgage at 4.5% would cost $190 a month.  A 20 year mortgage at 4.5% for a $40,000 cost would require rent of $253 a month.   A 40 foot unit might cost less than twice as much, and would be suitable for a childless couple or single parent with one child.  Doubling the monthly pay yields $460, $380, and $506.  Even considering the extra costs of utilities, these prices are still very doable for many poor and low income people.

This company in Baltimore advertises one trip 20' containers for prices a little over $2,000.  The company linked here has detailed pricing and design information.  They appear to use higher quality materials and appliances than might be needed for a low cost housing program.  A house 16' by 20' (composed of two 8 x 20 units) is priced at $80,300, shipped, roofed, assembled and placed on a foundation.  The price for a 20' x 24' home (composed of three 8 x 20 units) treated as above is $101,300.  Two 8 by 20 units intended more for vacation or off grid use are priced $29,000 and $36,000.  This article speaks about the pros and cons of container repurposing.  The article is more con, but many of the comments point out pros neglected in the article.

This site showing homes around the world has a low cost house built in Salt Lake City, Utah.  It is number 15. Sarah House, and in a 12+ minute video the designer/builder explains how he has tried to make this house suitable for singles or seniors.  Here are other homes and costs.  It is constructed from two 8' by 40' containers, and the narrator estimates cost from $103,000 to $112,000 to build.  He also points out that if mass produced, it would cost a lot less.  The above price includes learning and experimentation costs.

This article looks at the problem of ever increasing rents.  A number of interesting comments propose or describe causes, and describe the situation in various cities outside the DC metropolitan area.  This trend is certainly one of the factors in the growing homelessness problem.  We need to consider how various laws and regulations negatively impact the availability of lower cost housing.

Los Angeles has just announced [Sept. 2015] plans to put big money into tackling their homeless problem.  Their target of $100 million is similar to Mayor Bowser's target figure for DC.  Since their climate is milder they have many more homeless than does New York.

I hope our city has some builders, architects, and politicians willing to explore new and creative ways to house our homeless and poor.  Whether elected or not this November, I will try to help make this happen.  Some DC Council members have expressed an interest in tiny homes.  In addition, other jurisdictions are testing new ways to treat the homeless situation, such as providing housing first and then treating the drug and alcohol addiction issues.  The program linked above achieved a major reduction in chronic homelessness with this approach.

While it seems that many developers and political leaders have no problem with forcing our low and moderate income people out of the city, they should rethink this in light of the recent Metro problems.  How would this city function if all of the lower wage workers are forced to live miles outside the city?

Here is the link for a highly innovative skyscraper.  Its extensive covering of trees and other living greens is a valuable, environmentally friendly addition to an urban setting.

The election is over, I did not win one of the two At Large Council seats.  However, I did come in a strong third with over 29,000 votes.  Thank you supporters, this will give me strength as I continue to advocate for measures that help our people and our city.

For creative leadership at the Council, VOTE G. LEE AIKIN, in the Nov. 8, 2016 General Election since I won the DC Statehood Green Party Primary.* **

* Paid for by ELECT G. LEE AIKIN, campaign committee, 1754 Swann St., NW, Washington, DC 20009, Don Wharton, treasurer.
Contributions can be written to ELECT G. LEE AIKIN and mailed to:
1754 Swann St., NW, Washington, DC 20009.
** A copy of our report is filed with the Director of Campaign Finance of the DC Board of Elections.


  1. Yes, they both obviously can low the cost of housing crisis. Shipping container home plans and tiny home plans must be considered first before their planning to low the cost.

  2. Nice post.If someone wants to use a real shipping container, be sure to replace the floor. They use strong chemicals/pesticides in the treated wood. I saw a picture of something like this once that was raised up on log poles to provide a carport and small patio underneath the container. There were exterior stairs to the front door which had a small deck. Raising the container could also help provide a view and sense of space.
    Joy Containers

  3. Thanks for sharing this great and informative blog with us, this will help people who wants shipping container.

    New Jersey Machinery moving


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