The City of Vancouver has issued a request for proposal for a company to build and install shipping container-sized modular housing units to 'temporarily' house the homeless.

The city's RFP  makes it clear the plans are in their early stages and no site for the modular homes has been selected. But the type of unit, and its purpose, is spelled out — 150 sq ft, washroom and sleeping quarters but no kitchens and must be portable. 

They also can't be ugly, according to Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang.

"People have the idea that these are Britco trailers or something like that. Let's be clear. They absolutely don't look like that at all," Jang said. "We want to make sure these units fit into the neighbourhoods. That's not only good for the neighbours, but good for the people living there, so they feel like they are part of the community as well."

This won't be the first time the city has considered homes made out of shipping containers, or something similar. The Atira Women's Resource Society opened a six-unit housing complex made from recycled shipping containers in 2013 on Alexander Street.

Not permanent

Shipping container housing

The shipping container housing development at Vancouver's 502 Alexander Street was established in 2013. (Atira Women's Resource Society)

But the new plan for container homes would be a "temporary" solution said Jang, who envisions a homeless person or couple staying in a modular home for a year or two while waiting for permanent housing. The location of the homes, once selected, also wouldn't be permanent.

"They could go on private lands that's waiting for development for example, for a few years, or it could go on city land until that land is developed to do permanent housing," Jang said. 

Developers who agree to have modular homes on their site while they wait to break ground could receive property tax breaks or other incentives, and Jang expects some will volunteer their services, regardless.

"We get a lot of developers who simply say, I really want to help the community," he said.

The homes must be portable, because as land is developed, the city will look to move the modular units to new sites, Jang said.

Pilot project

The first phase of the project will be a pilot of 30 to 40 modular homes. The homes must meet B.C. building code requirements, can be a single storey or stacked two storey, and will be joined to a 1,000-1,500 sq. ft communal area with a kitchenette. 

If the pilot is successful, there could be as many as 300 homes purchased by the city every year, according to the RFP.

"Getting people inside ... has been very important because it really gets people ready to move into permanent housing when it is ready," Jang said.