What started as an innovative idea to reuse steel shipping containers and also create a more affordable housing option for residents in St. Helens, is well on its way to reality.
Earlier this year, the St. Helens city council approved a renewable 50-year lease with Portland-based developer and entrepreneur Carl Coffman so he could build an eight-unit apartment complex on 7th Street in St. Helens.
The homes themselves are made from recycled metal shipping containers with renovated interiors to be used as living spaces. Coffman pitched the concept in early 2017 as a way to bring more affordable housing to St. Helens, while also pursuing an innovative home development design focused on reusing materials.
The proposed complex at Seventh Street has been dubbed the "7th Street Container Lofts" complex and sits just west of the Sixth Street Park.
Over the past year and a half Coffman and staff from his company, Relevant Buildings, have been working to develop prototypes of five different home styles to be certified by the state.
A look inside
A walking tour inside the model units earlier this month with Matt Melton, sales director for Relevant Buildings, demonstrated exactly how the containers are transformed from corrugated steel boxes into living spaces.
While the outside of the unit has an industrial aesthetic with its brick-red paint, corrugated walls and text markings from its previous life as a shipping container still intact, the inside has an uniquely modern and clean appearance with slate-grey walls and accents of exposed wood and dark cabinetry.
Each condo unit will be made from two 40-foot-long shipping containers set side by side. The containers are joined by a gluelam, which is made of several laminated pieces of wood glued together to provide support and structure. With large windows and efficient use of sliding barn doors, the 640-square-foot home feels spacious and roomy. When many people walk in they often comment on how surprised they are that it looks like a home and not a metal box, Melton said.
The one-bedroom features a full kitchen, bathroom with a shower, living room, dining area and utility closet for a washer and dryer.
The current goal is to keep the sale price of the home in the $150,000 range. The design for this home model is called the Suite Spot, Melton said explaining how the unit is mid-range in size and price for the homes Relevant is planning to sell.
"For affordable housing, there's this wrestle between something cheap and something that's too nice and then it's not affordable," Melton said.
Production of St. Helens homes
Currently construction crews are able to create one of these homes in about eight weeks. The hardest part of the process is figuring out how to cobble the units together and connect various utilities when the homes are stacked, Melton explained. The homes themselves are being constructed at a facility in Canby.
Crews are currently working on the fabrication of the first two homes that will be installed in St. Helens. Ultimately, the developers hope to be able to construct the homes, tarp them and bring them to the city ready to be hooked up to utilities. Crews are also working on site in St. Helens to prep the foundation for the units.
While the homes may be more modestly sized, Melton said the company is trying to distinguish itself from the tiny house market.
"We are container home builders. Tiny homes are really built to [recreational vehicle] code. These homes are build to residential code," Melton added.
Public private partnerships like the one that is being established in St. Helens provide a unique opportunity to build the units without forcing the homeowners to purchase buildable land first, which can be a challenge Melton explained.
While the homes may not be suitable for everyone, Melton said he's heard from at least one person in St. Helens already who is interested in purchasing one of the condos when it's built.
"This can be a good option for affordable housing. We can hopefully just sell these and get them on the first rung of home ownership," Melton said.
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