Local government still an obstacle to shipping container homes
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The housing market, like any other, experiences its share of trends.

One minute, potential homebuyers want town homes and in another, they want tiny homes. In times of better economic standing, the demand is more influenced by preference, and in downturns, demand is the result of necessity.

Shipping container homes are affordable, quickly built, and customizable. Compared to other housing options — especially in urban centers — they are serving as an innovative form of affordable housing.

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Unsurprisingly, as seen with Lyft, Uber and Airbnb, the only problem is that municipal governments newly exposed to this housing movement are seeking ways to interject themselves into the process.

 

Cape Girardeau, the largest city in southeast Missouri, doesn’t have much of a claim to fame aside from being Rush Limbaugh’s birthplace, but the city is one of the first to ban the use of shipping container houses.

The Cape Girardeau Planning and Zoning Commission recommended banning the use of shipping containers as building material for both commercial and residential use.

Much of the opposition centered around typical “not in my backyard” arguments often heard about new developments, they aren’t aesthetically pleasing and they may bring the “wrong” type of resident. 

“At the end of the day, I certainly would not want a container home next to my house,” said a member of the city’s planning committee.

Following the recommendation, Cape Girardeau issued a 90-day moratorium on constructing any shipping container developments as they further research them. However, they have signaled that they are in favor of permanent regulation, if not a full ban.

On the other side of the country, the Bakersfield, Calif., planning commission recently upheld a ban imposed in 1986 that “restricts the use of metal storage containers for human habitation.”

The city allows containers for storage, but requires them to be painted “a neutral, earth-tone, site-compatible color, and cannot be visible from public streets.”

Bakersfield’s ban was reconsidered after a business owner sought to build a downtown office made of shipping containers.

They looked into possible changes to the city’s municipal code and made a request to the commission, who ultimately felt there wasn’t reason enough to modify the code.

The largest city in Texas doesn’t currently ban container homes, but the developments haven’t been widely embraced. 

Houston developer, Sean Krieger, started planning units in areas of the city with a high need for affordable housing, he was met with disdain and a profane-laced rant from a council member who didn’t want the developments in his district.

Despite the Houston-area having one of the largest homeless veteran populations — 80,000 in the city alone — the council member’s opposition centered around the idea of the developments gentrifying his neighborhood, he also complained that the buildings were “junk.”

That sort of hostility to a market-driven solution summarizes government’s growing view towards any industry that disrupts the status quo.

The Detroit Container Group is building container homes to enable low-income residents to live closer to work.

The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Midtown Detroit is $1,400. DCG is offering container homes for roughly $800 per month, or as little as $55,000 to purchase.

Wesley Osborne, President of Sundog Structures which specializes in container homes in Tampa, Fla., said the completed price of their units are usually at least 20-percent below construction costs of traditional homes. 

Sundog is beginning to mass produce standard modules, and as a result is expecting to further reduce that cost.

In Orange County, California, American Family Housing, a housing nonprofit, is building a two-story shipping container apartment complex in Midway City, called Potter’s Lane. Potter’s Lane will have 16, 480-square-feet units.

Each will resemble a studio with a combined bedroom and dining area, a kitchen, and a bathroom.

Montana-based developer, Montainer, is hoping to combat the extremely limited and overpriced housing market Portland, Ore., by providing shipping containers as accessory dwelling units.

Montainer would fabricate units in Montana, and deliver them to buyers in Portland. Upon delivery and installation, the units are expected to have utilities, appliances, and other furnishes. Montainer is offering prices as low as $60,000 and as high as $325,000.

On average, a 20-foot container in good condition can range between $1,400 and $2,800, and a 40-foot container of the same condition can cost between $3,500 and $4,500. They can be converted into roughly 400 and 700 square feet of livable space, respectively.

Many manufacturers are designing prefabricated shipping container houses for as low as $15,000. A bigger home, roughly 1,000-square-feet, would cost about $215,000 depending on customizations. 

Whether someone purchases one or builds it themselves, they are still saving more when compared to a traditional home.

Shipping containers are air-tight, water-tight, fire and wind resistant, and termite resistant. 

In Hurricane-prone areas, like Miami and Houston, they can meet requirements of being able to sustain 110-175 mph winds. Their sturdiness comes from the metal roof and the container being nailed into a pier and then a beam foundation.

As long as proper upkeep is maintained, units are expected to last at least 100 years.

Aside from single unit dwellings, they can be used for shopping centers, office buildings, restaurants, medical triage units and public restrooms to name a few.

It’s ironic that cities, often run by Democrats, are implementing bans to prohibit the development of innovative, affordable, and environmentally-friendly housing. 

It’s further reassurance that government claims of low-income- and environmentally-centric public policy are quickly ignored when new opportunities arise to regulate and exert power.

Charles Blain is the executive director of Restore Justice USA, a criminal justice reform project of Empower Texans. He campaigned for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2014 and has a background in public policy. Follow him on Twitter @cjblain10.


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