Shipping Container

A shipping container was lifted off a barge at the Port of Virginia’s Richmond Marine Terminal in South Richmond.

As communities across Virginia grapple with affordable housing issues, the search for solutions should be a bold one.

Back in May, the Greater Richmond Convention Center hosted “HousingX: Rethink the Box.” The “un-conference” highlighted new ideas in affordable housing construction, design, materials, finance and land use planning. The City of Richmond was a valuable partner, becoming the first commonwealth locality to use shipping containers as a raw material for affordable homes.

“Housing is a vaccine for poverty,” Mayor Levar Stoney said at the event, according to an Instagram post from indieDwell, an Idaho-based manufacturer of the homes.

Through a partnership with the Virginia Housing Development Authority, indieDwell delivered one of the structures to Blackwell in August. And last week, Newport News became the second locality to join the experiment.

According to a Daily Press report, the announcement came at the Virginia Governor’s Housing Conference (VAGHC) in Hampton. Newport News Housing and Redevelopment Authority officials said they would start with two homes — 960 square feet, three bedrooms and two bathrooms. A flyer listed a base price of $119,000 before permits, contracting and other costs.

With a glut of shipping containers at nearby ports, Hampton Roads is a prime test market. Newport News officials hope to raise awareness of the concept and boost the stock of affordable options. Those are sound goals to help residents reduce their cost of living.

But we agree with the city’s decision to see how the homes are received before investing further. In May 2017, The Daily Progress in Charlottesville outlined some potential drawbacks. Steel conducts heat and cold, so what kind of insulation is required? Could the metal structures rust? Can families adapt to these long and narrow spaces with lower ceilings?

We’re just glad to see an ongoing conversation. The theme of last week’s VAGHC was “Advancing Communities, Creating Opportunities.” While there still are concerns to address, creative uses for shipping containers fit that bill. Let’s innovate with what we have and work toward the ultimate public policy goal: more affordable housing options for Virginians.

— Chris Gentilviso

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