BY BECKY GINOS
FARMINGTON—Living in a shipping container – crazy right? EcoBox Fabricators don’t think so. In fact, the idea is shaping up to be a possible solution to the affordable housing crisis in Utah.
With the tag line “Think inside the BOX,” the business started in November 2017. “The owner has been successful at real estate and saw a need for affordable housing,” said EcoBox Office Manager Ruie Jones inside a model at the Davis County Fair. “He was in Amsterdam and saw these for students and thought there was potential to build them as homes. He did some research and found out it cost substantially less than regular building so he had an engineer figure out how to stack and build these.”
The little homes are shipping containers that have 9 ½ foot ceilings and are 20 feet long. “This is two married together,” said Jones of the model. “It’s about 640 square feet for a two bedroom unit.”
The company’s first project is slated for 500 S. 500 West in downtown Salt Lake City. “It’s called Box 500 and there will be 83 units,” she said. “We’ll have one and two bedroom studios with laundry facilities, elevators, you name it we’ve thought of it all.”
EcoBox owner Rod Newman is tearing down his building to make room for the complex, said Jones. “It’s so new and innovative that it’s hard to get permits. We have two more projects lined up that will be 400 units plus,” she said. “One will be toward North Salt Lake and probably out into Davis County.”
Jones said they have to warm people up to the idea. “They think it’s a trailer but it’s a good, solid home and it costs 30 percent less than traditional building.”
Those in Davis County working with families in poverty are excited about the potential the boxes have for housing. “We are a rich country,” said Jones, who volunteers as an ally with Circles Davis County and was part of the program herself. “We can afford to take care of our poor and sick. Over 80 percent who need food assistance are working two jobs. These are not lazy people but they still can’t make ends meet.”
Circles Davis County and Open Doors help lift families and individuals out of poverty by linking them with resources to find jobs, increase their education and skills and find housing.
“We work with people who are 200 percent below the poverty line,” said Circles Director Lamont Hampton. “We break down the barriers. Our mission is a hand up not a hand out. When people start with us we create a dream board. It doesn’t matter how big the dream is but I tell them to be careful because we’ll make you achieve it.”
Participants in the program must finish a 12-week co-hort. “We want to see how serious they are about changing,” said Hampton. “When they complete that they are matched with an ally to build a circle of people who are supportive. We’ve had four who have bought homes and three who wanted to start their own business so we find an ally who can help them get there.”
Hampton said Ecobox has already employed some of his Circle graduates. “Rod (owner) said ‘I’m going to take as many as we can take.’ These people have already taken the imitative to change so we want to get housing and living wage jobs for them.”
EcoBox is considering putting a warehouse at the Freeport Center in the next couple of years, said Jones.
“If they allow it to come here they can hire people from Davis County,” Hampton said.
Last week, the company met with city and county officials to show them the units and pitch the idea. “They were really interested,” said Hampton. “They’ve (officials) helped us tremendously. We’re hammering it out that we need affordable housing.”
“Circles is so powerful,” said Jones. “They helped me out when I was at my lowest last year. Those little humane things make all the difference in people’s lives.”
Hampton said most people don’t even know about the programs. “We’re just here to help.”
Circles will be hosting a Family Fun Night Aug. 30 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Kiwanis Park, 300 N. Vine St., Clearfield and an orientation Sept. 6 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in preparation for the next co-hort (starting Sept. 13). It will be held at Clearfield Community Church, 525 E. 200 South, Clearfield.