Recycled shipping container development set to house 12 women in Downtown Eastside

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      Shipping containers have been converted to apartments as part of a new project in the Downtown Eastside.

      Twelve units constructed from the recycled containers will soon house 12 women on a standard Vancouver lot on Alexander Street.

      Janice Abbott, the CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society, described the results of the project, which is the first social-housing development of its kind in the country, as “thrilling”.

      “I’ve always had this profoundly positive vision, and they still look about a thousand times better than I expected them to,” she told reporters at an official launch of the housing development today (August 1).

      The construction cost for the self-contained apartments was $82,500 per unit. This compares to a typical price of $150,000 to $200,000 to build a regular social-housing unit of a similar size, according to James Weldon, the development manager for Atira.

      The project includes six social-housing units that will house women aged 50 and older, and six units that will be rented to women at Housing Income Limits rates. Under these rates, tenants must have an income of $34,000 or less to qualify, and will pay rent equivalent to 30 percent of their gross annual income.

      The social-housing units will be part of a program that will see older women with roots in the Downtown Eastside mentoring young women at Imouto Housing, Atira’s transitional-housing project next door.

      “Most of us who have had the privilege of having grandparents know what it’s like to have elders in your life with whom you have good relationships, so all we’re trying to do is recreate those relationships for both the older and the younger women who live here, because both generations have often missed those experiences, and they are profoundly important I think in all of our development,” said Abbott.

      She noted that when Atira first proposed the project, they encountered criticism.

      “It started with controversy, a lot of stereotypes,” she said. “I still get asked questions like won’t it be cold, like we weren’t going to put insulation in. Lots of questions about the optics of putting women in shipping containers.  And we always had this vision. We knew that they would look like regular apartments."

      The studio apartments range from 280 to 290 square feet in net living area, and are self-contained, including bathrooms, kitchens, and in-suite laundry. 

      Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang said the city will be looking at opportunities to do similar projects.

      “We pushed this as a concept to see if it would work,” said Jang. “Clearly, looking at the buildings today, it does work, and I can see more of this coming around the city.”

      Abbott said Atira has its sights set on a larger housing project using recycled shipping containers. The organization is planning to submit a rezoning application for a 7-storey building consisting of 42 units at East Hastings Street and Hawks Avenue.

      “We’re already in the feasibility stages of our next project, so we want to do something that’s a bit more sophisticated…we kept this one purposefully simple because we knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge,” she said. “Now that it’s done and the precedent has been set, our expectation is we’ll do a larger project.”

      The idea to construct the units from shipping containers was inspired by a B.C. Hydro demonstration project during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

      “It was called the ‘House of the Future’ during the Olympics, and exactly, we do hope that it does have a future in construction, and this type of project and other projects will push the boundaries, and hopefully it does find its niche in the construction industry as a housing solution,” said Weldon.

      The selection process for the units will begin next week, and tenants are expected to move in on September 1.




      Aug 1, 2013 at 4:30pm

      Do so called "Progressives" honestly believe this is a viable and honourable way to address the housing crisis in this city?

      Its easy to understand why Vision and their backers like the idea of housing the homeless in old containers: It lets developers off the hook for having to provide viable homes for the poor in mixed and diverse developments.

      Whatever keeps the developers writing those checks, and whatever keeps the poors out of (potentially) gentrified neighbourhoods, right Vision?


      Aug 1, 2013 at 7:20pm

      They tore down the oldest house in Vancouver for this pile of shipping containers.


      Aug 1, 2013 at 7:27pm

      Excellent idea! Better to house several people for $250,000 than just one.

      gilbert marks

      Aug 1, 2013 at 8:09pm

      Re-purposed containers can be purchased for as little as $10K factory produced all in. These units were built one at a time like they typical suburban ranchers.

      Rents in BC's trailer parks are now so high that there are thousands of perfectly good well maintained 700 sq ft units available for under $10K. A friend just sold hers in White Rock for $1 just so she won't have to pay to have it hauled away.

      Course true liberals turn their noses up at trayler trash.


      Aug 1, 2013 at 10:10pm


      Hell yes I call this progressive and smart. Container housing ideas have been around for years. It's durable and liveable. The developer is also recycling and saving on building costs, which doesn't seem like a particularly egregious crime.

      As for keeping social housing out of other neighbourhoods, here is a map:

      Finding that map took 40 seconds. Pretty easy. You know what's easier? Obstructive cynicism.

      Alan Layton

      Aug 2, 2013 at 12:12am

      I think it's a good idea to at least give this a try. It's not new and a number of other countries have used the same containers, not only for social housing but market housing as well. It costs 1/3 the price of a regular building. The inside of these units look awesome and are much nicer than SRO housing. But only time will tell if they can be maintained and are comfortable in all seasons. I'm keeping my finger crossed that they will be successful.

      Alan Layton

      Aug 2, 2013 at 12:17am

      "Course true liberals turn their noses up at trayler trash."

      True liberals use spell check.


      Aug 2, 2013 at 9:26am

      Marie Antoinette, 1782- "Let them eat cake"

      Kerry Jang, 2013- "Let them live in old shipping containers"

      gilbert marks

      Aug 2, 2013 at 9:47am

      What can I says Big Al. We Trayler folk never had that hi fallutin schoolin y'all got. But we know how to live large on beans. Git off that high horse of yur'in and maybe just maybe we have sumpin to says.


      Aug 2, 2013 at 9:58am

      To say that these units are "shipping containers" is like saying someone living in a house built of wood is living in a tree. Hats off to Janice Abbott and all the other members of Atira!