Imagine an opportunity for the homeless or new residents in Arizona to be able to live in an affordable transition residence before settling in a permanent setting.
Furthermore, imagine these houses, small office spaces, or housing recreation rooms to be fully sustainable, powered by lithium battery solar panels and equipped with bathroom toilet units that use an incinerator, not vital water, to get rid of waste.
And these residences are constructed of shipping containers.
That was on display last Thursday (February 8, 2023) at Roosevelt and Second Street in Phoenix when Governor Katie Hobbs, Mayor Kate Gallego, City Community and Economic Development Director Chris MacKay, Arizona Director of Housing Joan Serviss, and Steel + Spark Co-Founder Brian Stark introduced to invited guests and dignitaries the SPARKBOX Housing Units, four buildings, formerly used as shipping containers, ranging from 180 to over 500 square feet, that can be used as transition residences for:
- The homeless.
- People moving into Arizona and needing an affordable residential option before settling into a permanent housing option.
- Adds on to an existing residence.
- Commercial use.
These units can also be designed to be ADA-compliant.
According to Mayor Gallego and Deputy City Communications Director Ashley Patton, Phoenix currently has several locations that are comprised of largely sustainable commercial and residential properties composed of shipping containers from different developers. This includes the tallest shipping container housing structure in North America, the IDA on the Northwest corner of Third Street and McKinley. Other areas include:
- MFG Coffee, 522 N 7th Ave, commercial
- Ocotillo, 3243 N 3rd St, commercial
- Containers on Grand, 701 N 12th Ave, residential
- The Oscar, NEC of 2nd St and Portland, live-work units
- The Churchill, NEC of 1st Street and McKinley, commercial
There are other similiar sites throughout Arizona.
The SPARKBOX site at Second Street and Roosevelt is the latest example of how this form of residence can help stem the tide of rising housing costs and revolutionize the future of green sustainable homes.
Governor Hobbs and Mayor Gallego Stress the Possibilities and Benefits of these Innovative Housing Solutions.
In their comments to the invited guests, both Governor Katie Hobbs and Mayor Kate Gallego highlighted the possibilities and benefits these shipping container housing and commercial units could bring to Phoenix and Arizona.
In her remarks, Governor Katie Hobbs offered:
“…I am hopeful that this concept can inspire the action we need to bring homes to more Arizonans…I’m excited for our visitors this week and throughout the spring to get an up-close look at a forward-looking sustainable vision for housing. And even more crucially, I hope this demonstration highlights the creative partnerships that we need to solve our state’s persistent shortage of affordable housing and shelter…Today in every corner of the state, renters are priced out…families in Arizona with extremely low incomes are less likely to find an available and affordable place to live than those in 46 other U.S. states and D.C. This has led to a significant increase in our homeless population of 500 percent since 2014. Housing affordability is a top concern for so many people in Arizona, not just those struggling to pay rent but also those in the business community who need a workforce to hire as the cost of living here in Arizona threatens to hold back retaining or attracting the talent that they need. My administration is focused on creating an Arizona for everyone and to do that, to make Arizona the best place, to live, work, and raise a family regardless of zip code, gender, race, or ability, we must bring people together to focus on the pressing issues…A central element of our housing policy agenda is to unleash innovative, flexible, backyard-ready solutions…We’re currently working on repurposing the shipping containers that were illegally installed at the border as a publicity stunt…We’ve developed a plan to offer these surplus containers to local jurisdictions and nonprofits to help expand our inventory of affordable housing and shelter…The evidence from across the country is clear. It’s housing opportunities that make the difference between metro areas with higher or lower rates of overall homelessness…”
The Governor also mentioned her proposed increased investments in the Housing Trust Fund and her plan (along the lines of “waste not, want not”) to make available the shipping containers former Governor Doug Ducey placed on the border to local governments interested in using them for housing and commercial purposes.
Mayor Kate Gallego echoed many of the themes presented by Governor Hobbs and went more into the specifics about the green sustainable benefits of units like the SPARKBOX ones, stating:
“…Phoenix has been a leader in a wide variety of building innovations, one of which is using shipping containers to create amazing housing projects. There are several walking distances from here. We are home to the tallest project with shipping containers in North America and some of the most innovative…You can see how great it is to stay in a shipping container project. One of the things I am often asked as an elected official working on affordable housing is would you want to live there? And as you’ve seen with these projects, the answer is unequivocally yes. They are gorgeous. They are well-designed, and they are consistent with our values. You see solar energy above, R26 insulation. There’s grey water. Very advanced plumbing and it’s incredibly sustainable…It can add to housing on an existing lot as well as being freestanding projects. The city is going to continue to invest with the team here today to advance affordable housing and build on successful projects like this one…Because of the advanced construction techniques, including the use of robotics, we can get projects to market more quickly. It’s a real challenge for us right now in the valley. We have 185,000 units that are permitted and zoned but not built yet. We have real supply chain challenges, labor shortages, and more so having new tools to get projects done more quickly is an amazing opportunity for us…We want to be known for this innovative, sustainable design, and being a forward-thinking city. So while the world is watching, we are so excited to showcase this project…We want to celebrate that we are an innovative community. We are going to try new things and we are going to find great solutions.”
When asked about Governor Hobb’s proposal to make available the shipping containers Mr. Ducey illegally placed at the border, Press Secretary Josselyn Berry updated:
“The Department of Administration is currently working on an appropriate procurement and disposition process that ensures the containers are used in a way that both maximizes the public good for the community, as well as the financial return to the State. “The prior administration wasn’t big on following procurement procedures, so we are ensuring that we are following every rule and law in the disposition process, especially after hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on this political stunt.”
With regards to Phoenix, there is great momentum to move ahead with these projects with innovative partners who, according to City Senior Public Information Officer Kristin Couturier, “offer creative solutions for housing and shelter to provide safe, indoor spaces for people.”
According to Ms. Patton at the City, the process has started to “continue an internal evaluation of our codes and ordinances to make sure that developments such as this (The SPARKBOX) can be permitted in the City without special permits.”
Furthermore, perhaps the most compelling feature of the SPARKBOX units is the incinerator toilets. This development could potentially assist in alleviating the severity of the drought Arizona and the Southwest states face.
When asked whether the City of Phoenix would consider making this an option or requirement for future housing construction projects, Ms. Patton relayed:
“The City is in the process of evaluating the incinerator bathroom units and upon completion of that review, we’ll be able to consider changes to our codes and policies. Demonstration projects such as this will help us speed up the review of this alternative method.”