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PATH Turns Shipping Containers Into Homes In San Diego

Unhoused and low-income residents in San Diego may now benefit from modular construction in the city’s El Cerrito neighborhood. Nonprofit People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) is converting shipping container units into one-bedroom and studio apartments available for no more than $300 rent per month. 

Nearly 50 units at the PATH Villas El Cerrito are expected to be available by the end of this year, with an additional 131 units planned for construction. The shipping container units are being built on top of the Family Health Center Clinic of San Diego so healthcare is easily accessible for all residents.

Unlike traditional home construction, modular housing can be built quickly. It takes three shipping containers to make a one-bedroom unit and two for a studio apartment.

Since the parts are constructed at a controlled facility before arriving on site, it speeds up construction time by as much as 50%. That means the project can get more people off the streets in a more timely manner, though the cost is the same as slower traditional builds. 

Phase one of the endeavor is expected to cost around $23 million, with an additional $60 million for phase two. The city, county, and state helped to fund the building project.

Photo Courtesy PATH San Diego

“Where the money might be the same — what you really gain is that time — which saves lives,” Jennifer Hark Dietz, PATH CEO, told KPBS Public Media. “We need to get more units online as fast as possible. We wanted to do modular on this site to build as quickly as possible. We know in San Diego there is not enough affordable housing.”

Qualifying El Cerrito-area residents will receive a housing voucher that will pay for most of their rent. Each tenant is only responsible for paying an amount equivalent to 30% of their income.

In addition to on-site healthcare, residents will also have access to education and employment services, including living skills classes and legal case management classes.

Photo Courtesy PATH San Diego

“We need housing — period,” Sean Elo-Rivera, San Diego City Council president, told KPBS Public Media. “This is how we solve homelessness — short and to the point — I want to make that clear. Housing solves homelessness — this is housing. If folks are concerned about the people on the streets, they should be supportive of projects like this.”

“I think it’s an innovative mode,l and given the housing crisis in California and San Diego — we need to be looking at every possible option for how we can create more housing faster,” Elo-Rivera continued.

Photo Courtesy PATH San Diego

For PATH, who also has a similar site in Los Angeles, the project is one step in creating a better life for the unhoused.“Homelessness cannot be solved without addressing structural racism and the systemic failures that perpetuate this humanitarian crisis,” Hark Dietz said on Twitter on May 12. “We need to do better to create a future where no one has to risk their lives being homeless.”

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