Out of the box

Reno’s newest “high-end shipping container apartments” now stand completed in midtown as monuments to the private sector’s inability to solve the housing crisis. As reported by the Reno Gazette Journal on Jan. 13, Bryan Raydon, of Marmot Properties—a real estate company that’s been redeveloping aging properties in midtown over the past decade—detailed his five-year slog to turn several standard steel shipping containers into tiny homes at Holcomb Avenue and Moran Street.

However, after unexpected delays, permitting difficulties and the financial realities of the housing market, what was originally envisioned as an experimental low-cost solution to skyrocketing rents is now two 800-square foot apartments costing approximately $1,800 per month. In the RGJ article, Raydon sounded disillusioned when answering potential questions about affordability.

“They should build it on their own lot if they want affordable housing,” Raydon told the RGJ. “We paid $16,000 a unit in fees. We had to put in concrete sidewalks and parking because the city required us to. The requirements make the city better but they also make it harder to make affordable housing.”

Herein lies the inevitable disconnect: Affordable housing won't come from developers seeking a profit when Reno's demand for housing so greatly exceeds its supply. Raydon lays the blame for the increased pricing squarely at the government's feet, and it's true, the City has issued fewer building permits in the years following the Great Recession, when the entire state's housing development sector came to a screeching halt. But the idea of simply turning prefabricated shipping containers into small apartments and plopping them all over town—however well-intentioned—is a gimmick at best, suitable for recreation spaces like downtown's The Eddy. The appealing interiors of the shipping container duplex are indicative of many developers' attitudes toward Reno real estate in general: take an inexpensive property and dress it up to sell.

Real housing solutions for the city's struggling inhabitants will come from projects like the Village at Sage Street, which opened in August. While not a public venture, the City “sold” the four acres upon which the Village sits to the Community Foundation of Western Nevada for a total sum of $1. Despite its own developmental delays, the over $8 million price tag was financed by a combination of capital and loans taken out by the Community Foundation, and private donations from members of the community and local construction companies. Managed by the Volunteers of America, the Village at Sage Street provides over 200 modest, serviceable units for a monthly rent of $400. The prefabricated, FEMA-esque dorms are fitting for a housing “crisis,” and are concrete examples of the solutions possible when the human cost is recognized before the financial one.