Do wheels make a shipping container home an RV? Oakland may soon find out

Shipping container homes, or “box homes” as aficionados call them, may soon be parked on city streets in Oakland. At least that’s the goal of Luke Iseman, who helped found “Containeropia” a shipping container community. Now, he’s living in a state-of-the-art container he designed, complete with bamboo floors, wood-paneled walls, a tin ceiling, a platform bed, a kitchen and bathroom. The container is on wheels, and parked outside a warehouse in West Oakland.

“The sexiest version to me is to just park them on city streets,” he said. “We have six parking spaces per vehicle in the United States. Parking garages are also an interesting opportunity. It would be nice to lease or buy old parking garages instead of waiting for them to be torn down and turned into luxury high-rises. We could turn the garages into a community with food trucks, shared common spaces designed around containers and indoor gardens.”

 

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His newest container is also a “smart” home, where you can control window tint and lighting with voice control. Solar power provides electricity and heat.

“It doesn’t feel like you’re inside a container,” he said. “It feels like you’re inside a cabin with very large windows.”

Containeropia, which consists of a bunch of shipping containers parked inside a warehouse, is currently dubbed as a 24/7 art space to skirt city regulations. Iseman said you have to be careful with the wording, and that there are benefits to turning the containers into vehicles.

“When something has a license plate it becomes a DMV issue, not a Department of Building Inspection issue,” Iseman said. “We can treat this like a vehicle with how we build it, and how it’s financed. Kinda like what you’d do with a car or an RV.”

The container will have a video surveillance system, where Iseman will be able to monitor whether he gets more tickets than other R.V.’s parked on the street for longer than 72 hours.

 

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“There are plenty of lawyers who’d like to fight with the city about that,” he said. “If the city wants to argue about it, I’ll be more than happy to.”

Iseman and Heather Stewart both founded Containeropia, and told SF GATE they’re having a tough time being entirely legal.

“When we first started there was so much resistance from the city,” Stewart said. “We spent a couple years discussing what tiny houses are and the need for housing. The problem is they’re answering the need with condos, but those are scheduled to be finished in five years. People need housing now.”

The people who live at Containeropia currently pay $600 per month, plus utilities. There’s a public garden and places to build stuff and work on the containers.

 

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“I want it to be ‘less but better’ where it’s not a sacrifice. I’m going to build this one where the average person would consider it an object of desire,” he said. “It needs to be as easy as clicking a button and a house shows up. It’s more efficient in many ways, and keeps you healthy and flexible in your life. When we achieve that, I think it will stop being niche and become mainstream, where we’re selling thousands of them per month.”

Stewart said she’s glad she gave up her apartment in San Francisco three years ago to live in a shipping container and run Containeropia.

“In the city we paid $4,200 per month, and here I’m getting paid,” she said, smiling. “Our goal is to give people beautiful, sustainable housing that’s affordable. It’s insane that we’re in debt for the first half of our life because of education and the second half for housing, and everyone just accepts that.”

She hopes with these tiny homes, there’s a paradigm switch, and people can afford to buy a home without paying it off for years and years to come.