This day’s portion Navigation Menu

Container housing – Right solution, wrong problem

Impermanent, cheap housing isn’t new. Prefabs sprouted up around the country after the second world war, and some of them are still standing today, decades beyond their estimated 10 year lifespan.

A single story prefab set back from a road

A £160,000 prefab in Ipswich

Of course, we’re living in austere times again, albeit self-inflicted. Whereas there may have been some logic in building prefabs after the war, there’s no reason not to build proper houses now, beyond inertia, nimbyism and ideology.

The 2015 version of the prefab is a converted container. I imagine these may be an appropriate response to a very specific, short term need, such as ultra-cheap housing for homeless single people, or even students. I also suspect they appeal to urban designer types as they’re an inventive example of reuse. They’re also modular.

Containers stacked on top of each other with windows built into them

Converted containers in Brighton

Yet in Brighton, they’re merely adding to the stock of expensive rented accommodation:

In Brighton, on the English south coast, developer QED struck a five-year deal with the Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) to install 36 shipping container homes on a former scrap metal yard. The cost of preparing the site and converting the old units cost QED £900,000 – around £25,000 per container. The charity now rents them out to “tenancy-ready” people stuck in hostels or sofa surfing with friends. At £650, the monthly rent is not cheap, but it is 75% of the market rate in Brighton.

Containers may seem a smart, inexpensive solution to a pressing problem, but that’s only the case when you’re failing miserably on so many other fronts: housing, for one, but also income, employment and the cost of living. And that’s all before you even tackle the question of people living in metal boxes.