By Ed Runyan
Is Warren ready for one of the more-modern ideas in housing – the cargo-shipping container house?
Edward Wiklinski of the Cleveland company Red House Projects and one of his Warren project partners, Jeff Sanders, hope it is.
Steel shipping-container houses have been described in some places as a way for people to reuse natural resources – in this case, steel containers – while at the same time providing a possibly lower-price home.
Wiklinski also likes the storyline that accompanies his project: Providing a home for Sanders, a Warren native who has faced challenges – substance abuse and permanent paralysis – and bounced back to become a productive citizen.
With the help of the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, a Warren-based nonprofit group that has helped Warren cope with its foreclosure-related housing problems, Wiklinski has proposed a shipping-container home on several vacant lots on Porter Street Northeast to demonstrate the potential of the concept.
“We believe everyone is excited about it,” Wiklinski said of city officials and residents living nearby.
The proposed location is the corner of Porter and Vine, which is in the distressed Garden District neighborhood just north of downtown.
The corner contains a mural painted by Warren artist Aaron Chine on the wall of a vacant structure. The mural would be preserved and incorporated into the project, Wiklinski said.
In fact, the inventive nature of the storage-container concept will fit nicely with the mural and public use of the property after the home is constructed, said Matt Martin, TNP’s executive director.
“I believe it will increase the quality of life in the neighborhood,” Martin said of public activities such as art projects with children that Sanders and others would schedule for the space.
A lot of steps will have to be taken before the project can occur, such as raising money for it and a variance to the zoning code.
Martin says the project is “cool” and would be a “model intervention to the blight and vacancy crisis Warren has experienced in the last decade.”
“The goal is to spur development for new modern living at a price point that is approachable for the residents of Warren,” Martin said.
A key to the project is Sanders, who became a quadriplegic 21 years ago, when he was 20, after jumping out of a hospital window during his darkest days of his addiction.
Sanders, who now has a master’s degree and works as a substance-abuse counselor, turned his life around after his injury.
“I knew I wanted to change my life, so I went to church,” he said. That was accompanied by participation in a 12-step program, lots of physical therapy at Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland and success at obtaining government funds to get an education and a handicapped-accessible van.
Wiklinski and the designer of the Warren storage-container project, Anthony Trimpe, say Sanders’ story is motivation for wanting the project to be successful.
“What I like about the container project is it’s unique, and it’s about recycling,” Sanders said. “The containers are like taking a crushed can along the side of the road, and some people are like that,” he said of people who need a change in their lives because of substance addiction. “I recycle them.”
John May, Warren planning coordinator, said building a house on that site with shipping containers would require a variance to the current residential zoning, and it also would have to be approved by the city’s Design Review Board because the site is within the Central Business District.
The zoning code requires that a new home conform to the “architectural style and character of the neighborhood,” but variances are fairly common, and May said he thinks the shipping-container house has “a 50/50 chance of being approved – it just depends on how it’s perceived and received.”
If a variance is sought, the neighbors will be notified of a public hearing where they can speak for or against the variance.
Warren has never had a shipping-container home, and May said he was not familiar with the idea until Wiklinski contacted city officials to explain it to them. It’s also the first shipping-container project for Red Home Projects.
Martin said he supports the project, but he knows there could be people who don’t.
“I say let’s have a public process,” he said. “Let’s talk about it. This is a conversation that should be had as publicly and transparently as possible. We’re throwing it out there for the community to discuss. We hope it gets a fair look.”