Shipping containers to be converted into low-cost rental homes in St. Pete

Chris Mercer, owner of Stress Free Construction in Tampa, is making plans to build 31 affordable mini-homes out of shipping containers in St. Petersburg, project officials say.

Construction is expected to begin in mid-February on 1700 Burlington, a $5.2 million development. Relying on 8-by-40-feet recycled corrugated steel boxes, the walls will be waterproofed and painted on the outside and insulated with foam on the inside. 

“It’s novel for around here, but it’s not so novel for other places,” says Sean Williams, principal architect and interior designer for Carbon Design + Architecture, noting the trend dates back to the 1970s. 

Carbon Design + Architecture has offices in Sarasota and St. Petersburg.

The 1/3-acre site two blocks north of Tropicana Field will be converted from single-family use into 320-square-foot rental units for one or two persons. Each unit, which would rent for some $800 to $1,200 apiece with utilities, would include a living area, restroom, bedroom and small kitchen. 

The community, to include outdoor areas where people can congregate, is expected to attract workers in Pinellas County looking for lower cost housing.

“These containers are built to be pretty rugged,” says Alexandra Dominguez, architect and designer for Carbon Design + Architecture, who worked on project designs.

They will be constructed to withstand at least 150 mph winds, with the exterior attached to a concrete base or wall underground. A lightweight roof will be installed to meet energy codes.

“It’s like a [plastic] blanket that we put over to the top of it,” Williams explains.

Completion is expected before year’s end. Prices were expected to be at least half of what renters in the community may pay in similar spaces.

Parking will be on the street.

The lot’s size and Booker Creek, which runs diagonally through the property, created limitations because of its required 15-foot easement for maintenance.

“Shipping containers ended up being kind of an unusual but really an ingenious solution,” says Dominguez, explaining the creek has become an asset for outdoor gatherings.

Innovar Structures of Wauchula is working with the shipping containers, while site work will be done by Stress Free Construction. Also working on the project are engineers Stonefield Engineering of Tampa, Hunter Design Group of Sarasota, and Runkle Engineering of Atlanta.

How did the project come about? Williams says a 2015 article that ran in 83 Degrees Media got local folks thinking more about shipping containers as a solution for affordable housing. You can find that article by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez, in which Williams shares potential construction uses for shipping containers, at this link
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Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. Now a wife and mother, Cheryl discovered her love of writing as a child when she became enthralled with Nancy Drew mysteries. She earned her bachelor's degree in Journalism and Sociology from Loyola University in New Orleans. While working at Loyola's Personnel Office, she discovered her passion for helping others find jobs. A Miami native, Cheryl moved to the Temple Terrace area in 1985 to work for the former Tampa Tribune