British Columbia

Shipping containers offer unique social housing for Vancouver women

Vancouver resident Marnie Crassweller shares her experience of living in Canada's first recycled shipping container social housing development.

Resident Marnie Crassweller loves living in a shipping container re-purposed by Atira Women's Resource Society

A three-storey social housing building made of shipping containers stands on a tree-lined Vancouver street.
The shipping container housing development at Vancouver's 502 Alexander Street was established in 2013. (Atira Women's Resource Society)

The shipping container unit is the most beautiful home Marnie Crassweller has ever lived in.

The Vancouver resident has been asked many times what it's like "living in a can," but most of the time, she says, she forgets about it.

"It's got floor-to-ceiling windows, hardwood floors, and butcher block counters," she said. "I look out at the North Shore. I love it."

Crassweller is one of 12 women who live in Canada's first recycled shipping container social housing development.

Established in 2013 by local non-profit Atira Women's Resource Society, B.C. Hydro and other partners, the housing complex sits across from the Port of Vancouver and provides safe, affordable housing for women in the Downtown Eastside.

The units range from 280 to 290 square feet.

The units at 502 Alexander Street range from 280 to 290 square feet. (Atira Women's Resource Society)

CEO Janice Abbott says the project was met with much doubt and criticism when she first proposed it to the City of Vancouver.

"We listened for probably 40 minutes about all the reasons why it could never happen," she said — but everything changed in a moment.

"One planner stood up and said, 'Council wants to do this, we need to stop talking about how it can't be done and talk about how we can make it happen.'"

The non-profit has since proposed building another seven-storey social housing complex made up of shipping containers in Vancouver's Strathcona neighbourhood.

Now that people see shipping container housing isn't a cold and barren can, Abbott says, she hopes they can become an affordable housing option for other people.

This story is part of a series produced in Vancouver about alternative housing options across Canada