Eastpointe weighs potential of container home projects

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published January 10, 2020

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EASTPOINTE — The city of Eastpointe is considering a proposal to construct two prefabricated container homes within the city in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity of Macomb County and the Ford Fund.

The proposed plan would be part of a pilot plan by the Ford Fund to put such homes in communities to aid veterans in need and other low-income individuals.

“We were invited by Macomb County Habitat for Humanity to a meeting to announce they received funding for this project,” explained Kim Homan, the Eastpointe economic development manager. “Mayor Monique Owens had been pushing for this project for some time, and Habitat had gotten grant money from the Ford Fund to move forward with it.”

The initiative has gotten some support from the community, particularly among some city officials.

“Changing the policies for our tax reversion properties to use these unused lots as homes for people was one of the priorities I’ve had since I was first elected to council,” said Owens. “I think it’s a great way to use what Eastpointe has to improve the lives of others.”  

The homes are made from large shipping containers modified to serve as permanent dwellings.

“They are made from shipping containers,” Homan explained. “There have been some larger-scale projects with homes like this. The containers are modified and put together to create a livable space. The United States has an abundance of unused shipping containers because it’s cheaper to make new ones than to ship them back after they are used.”

Homan went on to say that the homes would be a complete home suitable for one or two people.

“Shipping containers are great resources for making structures out of because they are sealed. Insulation is put in, windows and doors are added, they are modified to be hooked up to plumbing,” she said. “They will have one or two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, living area and they will even have full landscaping outside.”

The homes would be approximately 600 square feet. The project would require review by the city’s Planning Commission as well as review by the City Council because city ordinances currently prevent homes of that size from being built in the city.

“We submitted a request for proposal and we are awaiting an answer,” said Homan. “We have to find two suitable vacant lots in a residential area with clear titles and support from the neighbors. The smaller-sized homes mean they don’t meet our current ordinances in the city. The City Council would need to approve an amendment to those ordinances or perhaps a grant for special land use.”

Some members of the community have doubts about the project, worrying that the addition of small, prefabricated houses could lower property values and ruin the aesthetic of the neighborhood.

“There’s just not enough information yet. They won’t even say which lots they want to use or show us images of what they want these container houses to look like,” said Jeff Lubeck, the chair of the Eastpointe Planning Commission. “We do have a lot of affordable housing in Eastpointe that could be rehabilitated for veterans, so we wouldn’t have to have these small, little houses.”

Lubeck said that changing the city ordinances to allow such homes to be built could have unknown repercussions for Eastpointe.

“The biggest problem with changing the standards is that at any time, anyone can come in and drop whatever they want in any place in the city that meets those minimum standards,” he said. “If we are going to do something like this, we need to put a safeguard in it that says you have to come to the Planning Commission and City Council to make sure what you’re doing fits the neighborhood. You don’t want a 600-square-foot container house built amongst 1,200- and 1,500-square-foot houses.”

He said his biggest concern was how much they didn’t know about how the project ultimately would turn out.

“We don’t know how this is going to impact property values,” Lubeck said. “That’s why these ordinances were strengthened in the past: to make sure the houses fit the neighborhoods for the protection of everyone in the neighborhoods. You don’t want someone going into an all-brick (house) neighborhood and putting up a vinyl-sided house. I can’t see how this (proposed project) wouldn’t be detrimental to property values.”

Homan said she doesn’t think the addition of such homes to the city would be detrimental to the community.

“I don’t think it will lower standards,” she said. “Done properly with all the parties at the table working together, it can be very creative and unique. Habitat and the Ford Fund are hoping this is just the beginning and we can generate some interest in such projects.”

The Eastpointe Planning Commission will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6, to discuss the matter. The commission will give its recommendation to the City Council, which will discuss the matter at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 3.

“The Planning Commission has to make a recommendation to the City Council. They will review it at an upcoming meeting,” Homan said. “We’re hoping this will be something helpful and positive.”

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