Shipping containers that likely would have been left to rust in Vancouver will instead be used to construct the first housing project of its kind in Canada.

Twelve containers will be converted into social and affordable housing for women in the city's Downtown Eastside, where construction got underway Friday.

The project that's slated to be completed by next April was developed by the Atira Women's Resource society, which bought a lot in 2009 to build traditional housing.

Atira CEO Janice Abbott says that changed the following year when the society submitted a winning proposal to BC Hydro, which was giving away two shipping containers to a non-profit group.

Two more shipping containers were donated, and Atira bought another eight from the Port of Vancouver.

Abbott says six of the 12 units will be occupied by women over age 55 at $375 a month in rent while the rest will be for younger women who will pay about 30 per cent of market rent.

"What we hope is to set up an intergenerational program," Abbott said. "We have housing for young women next door and we'd like to set up mentoring relationships between them."

Stacked three high

The 320-square-foot containers would be stacked three high and each would have a private bathroom, kitchen and in-suite laundry. Floor-to-ceiling windows would be at each end and each floor would be linked by an external staircase.

The shipping containers once carried goods across the ocean from Asia and have been modified at a Richmond, B.C., shipyard.

Atira is planning a week-long open house for the public before the units, costing $100,000 each, are expected to be occupied on April 1.

"While getting them here and getting them stacked is extremely satisfying and exciting, what I'm really looking forward to is handing over the keys to the women who will live there," Abbott said from the site where the containers were being unloaded Friday.