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South Bend Nonprofit Aims To Build Affordable Housing From Recycled Shipping Containers

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Gemma DiCarlo / WVPE Public Radio
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With affordable housing being a perennial concern in South Bend, one local nonprofit is looking to fill some of the housing gaps using an unexpected material – shipping containers.

ContainArt Community was founded in 2019 with the goal of providing long-lasting, energy-efficient housing to low-income families in South Bend. 

 

Founder Ella D’Amico said even though the homes will be constructed from recycled shipping containers, people won’t be living in metal boxes. 

 

“It will have drywall, just like a typical home,” D’Amico said. “You know, carpet, flooring, all of that stuff.”

 

She said shipping containers are actually a great building material – since they provide a frame and exterior sheeting, staff and volunteers can manufacture a house off-site while another team builds the foundation on-site. 

 

“We’re able to cut the production time down as opposed to, first you have to put the foundation, then you have to put in the frame,” D’Amico said. “There’s not a weak link because one thing isn’t dependent on the other; it’s all happening simultaneously.”

 

D’Amico said prefabricating the home also cuts production costs, which will help keep the homes affordable. She said for the properties ContainArt currently owns – which are all west of the city cemetery – houses should retail for $150,000 or less. 

 

“We were very deliberate in what we did and where we purchased properties,” D’Amico said. “We fully aim to keep the price point low so that the people who are local to the area can afford to buy or rent the homes. That’s our number-one goal for the properties that we currently own on this particular project.”

 

D’Amico said lower prices won’t come at the cost of shoddy construction – even though ContainArt uses recycled materials, it’s focused on building housing that’s meant to last.

 

“Over the past 50 years, many of the homes that have come up in the affordable housing sector are now falling apart,” she said. “We’re upcycling and recycling as much as we can, but not cutting any corners on anything that we build.”

 

Eventually, D’Amico said she’d like to see whole communities of these shipping container homes. But for now, she said the goal is to help stabilize existing communities by providing sustainable, affordable housing. 

 

The city recently granted ContainArt’s rezoning request to build its first homes on Pagin Street. At the common council meeting on June 28, Black Lives Matter – South Bend leader Jorden Giger expressed support for the project and its location. 

 

“I think it’s a promising pilot project,” Giger said. “I just think that it’s important that we try to work with this developer to do something in that neighborhood, because it has a lot of potential.”

 

Councilman Henry Davis Jr. –  whose district covers the project sites – was less supportive.

 

“What I do not want to do is put that developer – or even that neighborhood – in a much severer place than they already are in,” Davis said at the June 28 meeting. “Meaning, we say yes, it’s built and then we don’t know what happens next.”

 

D’Amico said they plan to start production on their first home in early August. She said ContainArt staff have knocked on doors, put up signs and spoken with neighborhood organizations about the project, but the first home will be another opportunity to get community feedback.

 

“People can walk through it, see it, touch it, see what it’s like and decide, ‘yea or nay,’ whether I like this,” she said. “We can kind of get a feel for how the community is really going to respond.”

 

Contact Gemma atgdicarlo@wvpe.orgor follow her on Twitter at@gemma_dicarlo.

 

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