Two sites chosen for Vancouver's shipping container homes for low-income residents

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The City of Vancouver has selected the first two sites where temporary container homes will be installed to provide low-income residents with transitional housing.

Both sites located in and around the downtown Vancouver area are to be operated as pilot projects by a non-profit society with experience in managing social housing developments. One site at 1500 Main Street near Terminal Avenue, currently a community food garden, will consist of 40 to 80 units complete with bathrooms, shared kitchen facilities, and amenity spaces.

The other site will be built on the roof of a multi-storey parkade facing the alleyway on 1060 Howe Street, a below-market housing complex that was formerly the Bosman Hotel. There will also be bathrooms and shared kitchen facilities for the approximate 40 units that will be built.

Each unit is designed to provide approximately 150 square feet of living space, with the units accommodating a single or a double bed. The aim is to have 75% of the units dedicated for single occupancy purposes.

The modular structures are to be built off-site and then assembled at each location. It is expected that the container homes will be completed and ready for occupation by this fall.

A procurement process seeking companies to design and construct the homes was launched earlier this year. The municipal government says it has received 12 applications, of which five have been requested to submit detailed designs.

“We’ve made gains creating housing for modest income households, but our housing market is very difficult for people on fixed incomes,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson in a statement.

Temporary housing structures are being pursued as a low-cost alternative to rapidly create more temporary housing stock to address the local housing crisis. If the pilot projects are deemed a success, as many as 300 units could be manufactured and installed annually on City-owned sites and vacant land owned by other entities.

“We need to tackle the housing affordability crisis head-on with creative approaches like modular housing,” Robertson continued.

This is not the first time container homes have been built in the city. In 2013, Atira Women’s Resource Society completed a 16-unit permanent structure social housing project made out of shipping container units. The units, ranging from 280 to 290 square feet, cost $82,500 per unit to construct – significantly lower than the average $220,000 per unit cost for a conventional concrete housing project.

However, that project was built as a permanent fixed structure with full-suite amenities whereas the structures for the newly proposed projects can be readily disassembled. The cost to construct the temporary container homes will likely be lower than the 2013 project.

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