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Living in a Shipping Container



Many people do not earn enough money to buy a house in the San Francisco Bay area. Housing prices in northern California can be very high.

So, some young people have begun making their own houses out of shipping containers. It takes a lot of work and creativity to make a home from the large metal boxes. And those who are doing it must often fight local laws that limit where such homes can be placed.

Heather Stewart is an artist. She and 19 other people live and work in a small community. Their neighborhood is made up of shipping containers and other kinds of small houses. Most are standard containers, measuring only about six meters long.

On a recent day, Ms. Stewart was adding electrical wiring and pipes for drinking water to her home. She and the others are working together to improve their community.

“We kind of all have enough tools that we can pass them around, so then everybody has the resources they need to build what they want.”

Heather Stewart and her friend Luke Iseman have been living in the community since April. Before then, they lived in Oakland, a city near San Francisco. But officials forced the two to remove their shipping container houses from a property they had bought with friends. Officials said they were violating local laws that barred people from living in an industrial area.

So they moved to a large warehouse. They and their friends have placed more than 10 containers inside the building. Each container costs about $2,000. The group wants to keep the small community secret from local officials.

Luke Iseman says he got the idea to live in a shipping container after he helped build a metal-working factory inside a shipping container. The container was then sent to Kenya. He says he realized then how useful the huge boxes are.

“A roof that doesn’t leak and a floor that’s level. So from there, it’s more or less aesthetic modification.”

He and his friends say the lack of reasonably priced housing means people must be creative.

Camille MacRae lives in a container house in the same community as Mr. Iseman and Ms. Stewart.

“It's really interesting to be in this space because there are other people doing similar things, and just to have sort of like this richness of ideas and exchanges happening.”

People in other cities are building shipping container houses. And Mr. Iseman says the San Francisco Bay area may have similar housing communities that are hidden from local officials.

“People have been secretive about it because institutions impose large fines if you don’t comply with their rules.”

I’m Bob Doughty.

Mike O’Sullivan reported on this story from Oakland, California. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

standard – adj. normal or traditional in appearance

pass them around – expression. to share; to offer something to each person in a group

resource(s) – n. a supply of something that someone has and can use when it is needed

aesthetic modification – expression. changes to the appearance of something

impose – v. to cause (something, such as a tax, fine, rule or punishment) to affect someone or something by using your authority

comply – v. to do what you have been asked or ordered to do (often + with)

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