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Can Shipping Container Homes Make Englewood Better? Developer Hopes So

 Michael King, who has lived on his Englewood block for 19 years, said he likes the shipping container home idea, but he doesn't believe that the community is ready for it.
Michael King, who has lived on his Englewood block for 19 years, said he likes the shipping container home idea, but he doesn't believe that the community is ready for it.
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DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson

ENGLEWOOD — A land developer wants to turn shipping containers into homes and put them on vacant lots in Englewood.

Adrian Gutierrez, owner of Mighty Containers, said that shipping containers often sit in ports after being used to export or import merchandise because it’s too pricey to send them back to where they came from.

Recycling them into homes is eco-friendly and inexpensive, which can help homeowners save money, he said.

Gutierrez, 31, who lives in Lakeview, owns about 20 vacant lots in Englewood where he wants to put them.

In the past, he said he would have just flipped the land, but now he wants to do more with the lots.

"I would just divide them up and sell them, but I started thinking about it, and I realized I was doing what I don’t like,” he said  “Instead of making the area better, I was kind of just letting it change hands and making money off of it, which is what a lot of people are doing in Englewood.”

Gutierrez’s company wants to put a home made from containers on a plot of land at 5709 S. Elizabeth St.

Although the standard container is 8 feet by 20 feet, he wants to use two larger containers that are 8-by-40 feet each — resulting in a 640-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath home. The home would have a kitchen, and the bedrooms would have 9½-foot floor-to-ceiling windows.

Instead of the usual heating/air-conditioning system, Gutierrez said he'd prefer to use mini-split systems, and he said he’s leaning toward installing wind turbines to power the homes as opposed to solar panels sometimes used in container homes elsewhere.

The land will be cleared over the weekend and bulldozed, leveled and graded next week, he said.

A rendering of the proposed two-bedroom shipping container house. [Adrian Gutierrez]

Gutierrez said he has met with the city's Building Department and gotten positive feedback on his preliminary plans. However, his application won't be considered for permits until he submits his complete plans, said Mimi Simon, a spokeswoman for the department.

"As with any new construction single-family home, a building permit application and architectural drawings would need to be submitted through our standard plan review process for review and approval," she said.

Gutierrez said that once he is told that his foundation plans are up to city standards, he'll submit his full plan to the city. He said the city has questioned whether his shipping container home is durable.  Gutierrez contends it is because the containers themselves are "air- wind- and water-tight."

He said the containers are made of corten, a weather-resistant steel.

Gutierrez said he hopes to eventually put shipping container homes on all of his empty lots in Englewood.

The average cost for a shipping container is $2,000-2,500, not including framing the walls, insulation, drywall, electrical, plumbing, bathrooms and more. Gutierrez said he’ll probably end up spending $35,000-40,000 to create a home, depending on the type of finishes used.

He said he’ll probably rent the home for about $500 a month, and the tenant would be responsible for the utility payments.

He said he would be willing to negotiate a lower rent price based on family size.

Gutierrez said as far as he knows, his would be the first residential shipping container in Chicago. He said there are some in California, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

Gutierrez said he specifically chose the block on Elizabeth Street because it was clear to him that nearby residents take pride in their property.

“The neighbors around here try to keep their property clean,” he said. “If you look at the people right here,” he said as he pointed to a two-story home with freshly cut grass, “their stuff is well taken care of. It looks great.”

He knows neighbors have safety concerns, Gutierrez said. Even so, he believes that the neighborhood is changing for the better, he said.

“I think if people started building some new houses or taking care of the ones that are empty, it would bring a big change to the neighborhood,” he said.

Jasmin Barr, 19, who has lived in the neighborhood her whole life, said she likes Gutierrez’s idea.

“I think it would be cool,” she said.

Barr said she’s tired of seeing the empty lots and people standing on corners or sitting on porches. The shipping container homes could be a step toward improving the neighborhood, she said.

Michael King, 59, agreed, but he has his doubts. He has lived in the neighborhood for 19 years and said that he doesn’t think the community is ready for shipping container homes. His concern is that someone will break into them, he said.

“I think we will have problems,” he said. “They’re going to want to know what’s in it, and they will break in. People are trying to make a change, but it won’t happen overnight. Maybe in the next 10 years something like this can work. Racine [Avenue] will be Racine again, Halsted will be Halsted again.”

Gutierrez said he also has his eyes on three city-owned lots directly across the street from the property he’s working on now. He said he’s tried to reach out to Ald. Toni Foulkes (16th) about them.

Foulkes told DNAinfo Chicago that she wasn't aware of the project and declined to comment on it until she learns more about it.

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