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Old shipping containers will be turned into small apartments for the homeless

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An innovative solution for quick and affordable housing

Orange County, much like Los Angeles, is struggling to house its homeless. In just the last two years, the number of people living on the streets shot up by more than 2,000 people. With tensions mounting over the increased presence of makeshift homeless encampments, one non-profit is stepping in with an innovative solution for quick and affordable housing.


On a once vacant lot in Midway City, American Family Housing is building Potter’s Lane, a two-story apartment complex made entirely out of old shipping containers. When completed, Potter’s Lane will offer 16 units, each measuring 480 square feet.

AFH’s director, Donna Gallup, wants to make it clear that the shipping containers are merely the raw materials, and not the finished project. "We are not putting people in shipping containers, we are putting them in housing," Gallup told the Los Angeles Times.

Each unit was designed by SVA Architects, and is made up of three, 8- by 20-foot shipping containers. Each apartment, measuring 480 square feet, will have a combined bedroom and dining area, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Two entire walls feature floor to ceiling windows to provide light, helping give it the appearance of a conventional apartment.

To rent an apartment, tenants will pay up to 30 percent of their income, AFH spokesman Steve Harding tells Curbed. Those who no income would pay $0 at first. But when they sign up to live at Potter’s Lane, they're assigned to a case manager who will help them apply for government benefits based on their disability or military service, Harding says.

Speed and economics are key to the project’s success. The first shipping container unit was dropped in on Wednesday, and the entire project is slated to be completed by January. That’s a mere five month turnaround for a two story apartment building. According to the Orange County Register, the initial cost estimate was $1.9 million.

While the building’s 16 units will do relatively little to chip away at Orange County’s growing homeless population, AFH wants to spark a trend that can make a lasting impact. Gallup calls the project, "a groundbreaker to change the way we permanently address homelessness." The viability of the Potter’s Lane project could open the doors for a whole new industry of housing. "Imagine a 16-unit project is being created in the factory in just over three months," said Gallup.

Last week, the director of housing for the homeless for the Los Angeles Department of Health Services told the San Francisco Chronicle he's excited about the prospect of using metal units to house the homeless.

"There has to be something between a cardboard box on the street and a $400,000 unit that we can do. We have to start innovating, and modular housing is very exciting," he said.