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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Outside the Box

Container homes create a new local affordable housing opportunity

Editor’s note: This is an extended version of the article in January/February Evansville Living.

Housing made from metal shipping containers is not a new concept — the first patent is said to have been issued in the 1980s. Since then, it’s been used in disaster recovery and affordable housing efforts around the country.

But container homes had not reached Evansville until a collaboration between the city, the nonprofit Community Action Program of Evansville, and other partners led to the erection of two homes at the end of Cody Street, near Cedar Hall Community School.

The single-family homes each are 640 square feet, with two bedrooms and one bathroom, a size similar to the surrounding shotgun-style houses. With quartz countertops, energy-efficient appliances, a porch and small yard, a slightly pitched shingle roof, and painted a light yellow, the repurposed shipping containers could represent quality living in small spaces.

Photo by Laura Mathis

“Different types of housing are the trend now,” says Kelley Coures, outgoing executive director of the Evansville Department of Metropolitan Development. “Rather than traditional brick- and wood-built homes, communities are trying to use different materials to create attractive and sustainable housing.”

The idea to bring container homes to Evansville dates back to 2017. Gary Roan, now CAPE’s CEO, was a board member of the nonprofit then and worked for Old National Bank. An investor approached ONB about financing a container homes concept. Roan shared the idea with Alice Weathers, then the CEO of CAPE, and Construction Manager Steve Thomas.

It took several years to bring the vision to life. Officials say the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the project, and it also took time to nail down funding and find the most suitable neighborhood.

Now that the homes are in place, CAPE wants to either rent them or lease them with a purchase option. Roan says homes can be stacked or joined to accommodate larger families.

Sitting on land donated by U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo, each 25-foot-by-100-foot lot is available to income-qualified individuals or families. They were constructed using $450,000 from the Evansville Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

“When you are using government money, everything is more expensive. You have environmental requirements you don’t have with private construction,” Coures says.

A 2023 Updated Housing Needs Assessment for Evansville, conducted by Bowen National Research, shows no doubt about demand.

“There is an overall housing need for approximately 2,812 additional rental units in the city over the next five years, which is a slight increase from the housing gap of 2,517 rental units in 2022,” the report states. “There is a notable need for housing among all affordability levels. As such, future rental housing development should include a variety of rent and income-eligibility levels.”

Coures, who is retiring in early 2024 and will be replaced as DMD director by Kolbi Jackson, appointed to the role by Mayor Stephanie Terry, says more container homes are possible in Evansville, depending on how things go with the first two.

“We’ll see what the reception is,” Coures says. “My particular opinion is, you try everything, and whatever works, you try more of that.”

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Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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