An unusual home taking shape inside General Motors' sprawling Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant is intended to be part of a movement to rebuild the city's economy and deteriorating, disappearing housing stock.
Skilled-trades workers, taking breaks from their tasks at the factory that produces the electric Chevrolet Volt and other vehicles, dart in and out to do door, window and wall installation and framing, as well as electrical and plumbing work. Meanwhile, a nonprofit urban farming group is preparing property a few miles away that will welcome the project, what's believed to be the city's first occupied shipping container homestead.
Come spring, the house-in-progress will be delivered to Detroit's North End neighborhood and secured on a foundation where a blighted home once stood. After finishing touches and final inspections, the 40-foot-long former container will feature 320 square feet of living space with two bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen, and will serve as home base for a university-student caretakers of a neighborhood farm and agricultural research activities.
One shipping container home won't turn around Detroit's housing woes. The city emerging from bankruptcy has roughly 40,000 vacant homes waiting to be demolished. But it's a start and, organizers hope, a model to lure and keep residents as Detroit removes blight and recovers from bankruptcy.
Shipping containers converted into living or working spaces are common in some other cities. For instance, in Salt Lake City's rundown warehouse district, a nonprofit group last year converted them into "micro-retail" spaces. A Seattle-based company designs and builds houses out of reclaimed containers.
Containers have been modified for both basic and luxury living elsewhere. But Tyson Gersh of the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative is unaware of another project involving a major manufacturer and nonprofit designed to serve many socio-economic needs through what he calls "social innovation."
Organizers hope the container project can lure millennials who don't want their grandfather's bungalow yet also provide predominantly poor, longtime residents with a low-cost housing alternative.
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