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WVPE News

Shipping container homes still moving forward despite setbacks

Shipping containers onsite at ContainArt's warehouse space in July 2020. The nonprofit, which aims to build affordable housing out of recycled shipping containers, has faced several setbacks since last summer.
Gemma DiCarlo/WVPE News
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Shipping containers onsite at ContainArt's warehouse space in July 2020. The nonprofit, which aims to build affordable housing out of recycled shipping containers, has faced several setbacks since last summer.

Last summer, ContainArt Community was preparing to start production on its first energy-efficient, affordable shipping container homes. But since then, the nonprofit has faced a number of challenges.

“I’m not really sure where to start or even, like, how much to tell you,” founder Ella D’Amico said in an interview last week.

When D’Amico last spoke to WVPE, the South Bend Common Council had just granted ContainArt’s rezoning request to build its first duplex on Pagin Street. She had secured warehouse space for production, the shipping containers were onsite — everything was ready to go.

But then, the break-ins happened — first in August, then again in December.

“The first one was relatively minor, maybe a couple thousand dollars worth of things,” D’Amico said. “The second one was devastating. They pretty much cleaned us out with everything else that we owned.”

Around the same time, they started having disagreements with the owner of the warehouse about whether ContainArt was really allowed to use the space.

D’Amico said those conflicts damaged morale among volunteers, and combined with COVID-19 outbreaks, pretty much wiped out their labor force.

Despite the setbacks, the nonprofit is still in business.

“We’re still moving, it’s just not as fast as we would like,” D’Amico said. “And [we’re] having to get creative with how we do everything.”

D’Amico said they’ve shifted to building a smaller, one-family home in Keller Park that should be up by spring, weather permitting.

Back in July, D’Amico said the goal was to make ContainArt’s first project affordable housing. But, she said the house in Keller Park may have to be priced closer to market rate.

“At this point, a lot of the issues that we’ve run into have significantly driven up prices for us,” she said. “I really don’t know what the price point will be for this one in particular.”

Ultimately, D’Amico said she’d like to see mixed-income communities of shipping container homes — not just affordable units or high-end ones. And she’s insistent that those communities be in South Bend.

“There’s a big need here in South Bend for affordable housing that’s quality,” she said. “One of the things that I ran into a lot was people who said, ‘Did you think about going here and selling it here?’ And I kept saying, ‘No, it really needs to be part of the affordability piece.’”

After the December break-in, D’Amico said ContainArt is seeking tool donations, and hopes to launch a tool library that other small builders and developers in the area can borrow from. They also hope to partner with other grassroots organizations interested in affordable housing.

Though the future is still uncertain, D’Amico said she doesn’t plan to quit.

“Quite frankly, most people would have quit already. With the very first barrier, most people would have quit,” she said. “We’ve jumped through three, four, five, six different barriers and we’re still moving forward.”

Contact Gemma at gdicarlo@wvpe.org or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

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