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Tacoma to look into possibility of reusing shipping containers to house homeless

A shipping container repurposed into a living space by Shelterkraft. (Photo courtesy of Shelterkraft)

The Tacoma City Council approved a resolution this week, directing its planning commission to begin looking into the possibility of repurposing old shipping containers to use as shelter spaces for the city’s homeless population.

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Tacoma’s existing land laws prohibit the use of shipping containers as accessory buildings in any residential, commercial, or mixed-use zoning districts. The hope with the resolution is to discover  whether it would be feasible to change those rules to allow for certain exceptions, and then determine whether there’s a way to adequately convert enough containers to housing units to make an impact on Tacoma’s ongoing housing shortage.

As Tacoma Councilmember Kristina Walker noted during Tuesday’s session, this wouldn’t be viewed as a solution to the city’s homeless crisis. Rather, it would potentially exist as a supplementary housing option to strengthen the city’s larger response efforts.

“It is not going to solve our housing crisis, but it is one more tool in the toolbox,” Walker said.

“It’s not the solution, but it might be one of the creative ways we can start addressing housing shortages,” Councilmember Lillian Hunter agreed.

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Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards voiced her support for the resolution as well, stating that she believes “the reuse and repurposing of shipping containers can be really great for a community, if done correctly.”

It’s unclear at this point what this plan would look like in practice, although that will largely be up to the council’s planning commission to determine in the days and weeks to come.

Cities like Los Angeles have found relative success over the last year in standing up repurposed shipping containers as housing options for homeless residents. Proponents cite how using the containers can reduce the amount of time it typically takes to build shelter spaces, while reducing the impact to the area given that they’re freestanding.

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