Low Cost Housing


There is such a calling for low cost housing since our society is allowing so many people to fall through the cracks. The economy is growing at a slow pace, labour needs are changing, employment opportunities will always be slim for a certain portion of the population, and education levels will always make it such that not everyone is easily employable, or earns a high salary.

There is such a crunch in Montreal each July and in other cities throughout the year to satisfy the people who are unable to find housing, and the various levels of government are not providing the low cost housing that is needed at the rate that is needed. What is needed is a quick solution with a low cost, that satisfies a perpetual need of housing to enable people to get back on their feet. If my earnings are at the welfare level, or my salary prohibits me from finding an apartment because the rent levels have risen too high, would I choose to live where the cost is extremely low, but the space is also small? Would I succumb to living in a place that is one third of the size of a typical apartment and pay one quarter the rent, just so that I can save up some money to help pay off debt so that in a year I can afford the larger and more expensive apartment? We all may answer yes to these questions for a short term solution to a financial crisis.


The prototype of this housing model is a large apartment building from all outward appearances. The inside of this building contains a large volume of one room apartments made out of intermodal containers. Some levels of the building will be exclusively for women, others exclusively for men, others mixed. In a smaller percentage of the building there will be two intermodal containers joined to make a larger apartment for small families.

Table of Contents

  1. The Building
  2. The apartment
  3. Modular Construction
  4. The Financial Picture
  5. Reasoning Behind all of this
  6. Other things to consider

The Building

The building will be anywhere from six to eight stories tall (eight is the maximum height for stacking intermodal containers), shaped in a rectangle which is two apartments plus a hallway wide, and twenty to thirty apartments long. Each apartment is a 40 foot intermodal container unit which has been outfitted with all of the interior components prior to being lifted into place in the final building. This will allow for the outfitting and preparation of each unit on the ground in a warehouse where mass production efforts could be made easier - any work needed on the outside of the container could be done with ease, and all parts needed could be taken from a stockpile and put into place more easily. Presuming the building's long axis corresponds to a north-south orientation, there would be one street level entrance at each cardinal point, staircases at the north and south ends as well as at the centre, and an elevator bank at the centre of the building.

Below is a diagram of what one level would look like in the building, and all levels above and below it would be identical. The green containers are the hallways, the yellow ones the small apartments (1 container), the brownish containers are the medium apartments (1.5 containers) and the light blue containers are the large apartments (2 containers). As with all apartment buldings the medium size type of apartment will be the most common in the building.

The outside of each unit will be prepared with the outdoor coating before being loaded into place, and once all of the units are stacked, the hallways, staircases and elevators need to be put into place as well. The hallways will be extremely well lit so that security is less of a problem, and a key or pass card will be required to enter the building. That same key or passcard will allow access to the level that the person lives on. A rule of the building will be that guests are not suggested, but that residents are allowed to have guests, and to bring a guest in or out, the resident will need to bring the guest to and from the entrance of the building. Tight security like this will ensure that access to the women's level will be limited, access to each level is limited to the residents of that level, and so crime will be more prohibitive. Each unit will have a patio door facing the outside to let in lots of light as well as a 4x8' balcony. Laundry facilities will also be provided in the basement. This will be a long way to go for people living on the northernmost apartment on the eighth floor, but low cost housing doesn't offer convenience, it just offers a low price.

The hallways, like the apartments, are made of intermodal containers. This will ensure that the hallways match the apartments in terms of height. The hallway containers will run in a perpendicular line between the two stacks of apartments, and will be prepared in the production area to have openings to enter into the apartments, stair wells and elevators. As described above, the hallway containers will be extremely well lit, well designed, and made durable for longevity.

The location of the building will be somewhere very near the center of the city, somewhere in a poorer district since that is where the cost of land will be less, but somewhere it is reasonably safe. As close as possible to a metro station, and if not, right on a frequently travelled bus route.

As much as can be written about the construction of the building here, there will be changes to meet building codes, so there may still be lots of questions to ask and details to discover, but only so much can be written without that knowledge. A building engineer or architect would be needed to come up with the answers.

The Apartment

Each of these apartments will be identical to each other, the only difference being the elevation from the ground and the placement in the stack. Below is an example of the design of a single container unit.

The actual design of the apartment is still in the debate phase, and as well, once this project gets off the ground, an interior designer and architect will need to be involved to ensure that building codes are met, and that the design incorporates every means necessary to make such a small space livable. Some apartments may be one and a half containers, where two tenants will occupy three containers. Since the support structure of the container does not involve the sides and only the edges, the long side of one container can be removed, and the long side of the shared container can also be removed. Down the centre of the shared container a new wall will be constructed, adding approximately four feet of space to the apartment on either side. Below is a sample design of just such an apartment.

The large unit will be two containers for one tenant, below is a sample design plan of one. Note that the large units are always on the corners of the building, so the balcony can have two sides, and one long side can have windows in addition to the end.

Additional features of this apartment is the heating system, the floor was prepared with a radiant heating system which just needs to be hooked up once the unit is placed in the stack. There is a sprinkler system installed in each unit with two or three sprinklers present in each, this sprinkler system is unit independent. The plumbing and electricity for each unit will be fully constructed before the unit is lifted into place, and made such that once the units are added to the stack, joining the plumbing and electricity to the stack is made with relative ease of access. There is an added cost to the construction by running lines according to each unit, rather than treating the unit as a part of a whole building (like wiring a traditional apartment building), but some of that extra cost is relieved by the ease in which the container is connected once added to the stack.

The idea of this small apartment is to provide a single person a place to sleep and spend short periods of waking time. A university student may use this apartment, a single woman who lost her job, a son who got kicked out of his parents house or someone new to the city from somewhere else. The purpose of this small apartment is to give someone the chance to accumulate some savings while they live in a cramped place paying a very low rent. If it ends up that some people end up living here for years on end, that is a choice for them to make.

Modular Construction

Some of the principles of this apartment's modular construction has already been described, but more details as to this construction will be presented here. The issues that will need to be faced with respect to the modular construction is mostly plumbing and wiring.

Plumbing involves suppling water and discharging waste. Since each unit is stacked above another one, it makes sense to have plumbing run up and down each column of units, this way the design can be such that when one unit is lowered on top of another one, a few joints need to be sealed and the plumbing connections are complete. The kitchen sink, bathroom sink and shower each require a small discharge pipe, one to two inch diameter, these discharge pipes can be worked under the raised floor of the bathroom. The bathroom floor needs to be raised in order for the toilet's discharge to be handled. Since the toilet discharge pipe is wider, three or four inch pipe, the toilet will be placed right up against the wall that faces the hallway. This way the discharge column can be worked on an inside corner of the apartment on the left side (where on the right side of the unit is the entry door). With the large discharge pipe running down that inside corner, the toilet would be placed very close to it such that the discharge pipe of the toilet can easily connect to the main discharge pipe. All of the small diameter pipes would also connect.

With respect to the water supply, each unit will be provided a tankless water heater, which means only one pipe of unheated water need be supplied to each unit.

More electrician expertise will be needed here, but I don't think it is difficult to imagine that each unit can be wired for electricity and telephone and cable prior to being added to the stack, and then it is just a matter of making the final connection in a reasonably accessible access point.

Since the hallway and apartment containers will all be made in the production area, the joining of the hallway with the apartment can be tested before hand, but better still, computer simulation will enable us to ensure that the hallway module can be standardized. The exterior face of the apartments will have balconies, so the floor will need special treatment (could be the artificial grass that is available, but with a high durability so that they won't break down quickly). The balcony walls will also need exterior grade finishing and paint, all of this could be done in the production stage. What would be left once the units are all stacked would be to weatherproof all of the joints such that the tiny space between containers is completely closed off from nature. Also, an extra layer of insulation and weatherproofing would be put on all outside surfaces of the building to give it a sense of one-ness once complete, and to help maintain heat during the winter.

The Financial Picture

The total cost of monthly fixed costs will be divided based on how many units exist with an inflationary adjustment added. As an example, let us say that construction was 5 million, and we had a downpayment of 500,000$, the remaining mortgage payments (5%, amortized over 25 years) would be around 26,000$ per month. Add other costs like cafeteria supplement, janitorial, electricity, inflationary profit adjustment, this brings the total monthly payments to 50,000$. Let us say there are 280 apartments in the building (based on a floor-plan that has been designed that contains 13 small apartments (1 container each), 18 medium apartments (1.5 containers each) and 4 large apartments (2 containers each). If our monthly revenue was to be 50, 60, 70 or 80 thousand dollars, below is a table that shows what the rent would be for each of the apartment sizes for each of the revenue values.

50,000$ 60,000$ 70,000$ 80,000$
small apartment 130.21$ 156.25$ 182.29$ 208.33$
medium apartment 195.31$ 234.38$ 273.44$ 312.50$
large apartment 260.42$ 312.50$ 364.58$ 416.67$

Some gradation may be taken into consideration with respect to how high an apartment is; someone living on the top floor may pay an additional premium per month, but nothing extravagant. Rent could be 230$ per month plus 2$ * level you live on, so if you live on the 6th level, your rent would be 230 + 2 * 6 = 242$. Owning a parking spot in the basement would be an additional 30$ per month, putting the rent for that apartment to 272$ per month. Having the apartment furnished would be an extra 20$ per month, this apartment now costs 292$.

A method will need to be determined to find investors to come up with the startup capital needed. One idea is to sell an apartment unit to the prospective investors. If there were three different sizes of apartments, ask an investor for 20,000$ for a small, 30,000$ for a medium and 40,000$ for a large. Once the building is complete, the unit is theirs and they can decide what they want to do with it. They can leave it in the rental pool along with the rest of the building and receive rental revenue, they can sell the property themselves, or they can keep it for themselves as a place in the city for friends and family to stay whenever they like. Since the goal of this housing is to keep it low cost for future students or people in need, the purchaser will need to sign an agreement that the selling price at the end of the term is strictly controlled, but it will definitely be more than what they paid as investors. Once the total cost of the project is estimated, then it would just be a question of getting enough investors in the project to meet the minimum requirement of the bank. At these bargain prices for a home in the city, finding investors may not be difficult.

With respect to tenants, it may also make sense to make a certain portion of the building available for purchase. If a student can pay 20,000$ for their unit, and then sell it after their three or four year program to another student for 25,000$, they've made money over that time and have had a place to live during their education for less money then it would have costed to rent. 500$ rent for 48 months is 24,000$, 460$ per month mortgage payment at 5% on a 4 year amortization is 20,000$. Since the goal of this housing is to keep it low cost for future students or people in need, the purchaser will need to sign an agreement that the selling price at the end of the term is strictly controlled.

Reasoning Behind all of this

The object of this building is not to make an huge profit for the owner, but to allow for low cost housing for people who need it. Someone who is well off may want to live in a place like this because of the extremely low rent, but because of the very small size of the apartments, it is more likely that the only people who would live here are people who absolutely need to. Lease terms will be more open than a typical apartment building, where the tenant can leave at anytime with only a single month's notice. It is presumed that there will always be a demand for this low cost housing, so there should rarely be any trouble in finding tenants. Besides which, if there are 300 apartments, if five apartments are empty at any given time, this reflects a revenue loss of only 885$ out of a total needed of 50,000$.

If this model works well in one city and is constantly full and has a large enough waiting list, a second building would be constructed with the same design and methodology. With each building that gets constructed, in the original city, or in others, methods of construction and operation will be refined. Research should be done in American cities where 'projects' need to be studied to see what can be done to avoid the pitfalls that have occurred in neighbourhoods where crime has constantly risen.

Colours would be chosen that are vibrant and active. Artists would be hired to paint murals in hallways (to discourage grafiti). Banners would be placed in areas asking people to be proud of where they live and to keep it clean, to remind them of manners and to ask for friendliness with neighbours.

Other things to consider

Since the apartments are so short on space, and since apartment doors are always meant to open into the apartment rather than into the hallway, a sliding door will be used for the access door into the apartment (like in the original Star Trek series, but without the sound). For the same purposes, the doorway into the bathroom will also be a sliding door. Both of these doors will slide into the wall, the bathroom door will be manual, the access door will be somewhat motorized and mechanically aided. Some method of physical system will be put in place to make it such that an electric motor with low wattage is capable of opening and closing the door. The design of this system should also be such that the motor only draws watts during the time that it is in the action of opening and closing the door. The reason for this is that the door operability as well as the access key system, will all be connected to the renewable energy system that helps to power this building. The roof of the building will be covered with solar cells which power a battery station that provides all of the power necessary for the access card system as well as the door opening and closing systems. If there is sufficient power in the battery system to power hallway lights, this will also be done. In this way, access into and out of the building, and into and out of each apartment will be guaranteed no matter what the outer power situation is. The battery station would also be used in emergency situations to power the emergency lights throughout the building. Since this building has such a large footprint, this will indicate that a large number of solar panels would be available for usage.

A futuristic touch would be to make it such that the hallway containers have their floors and ceilings replaced with glass. This would make it so that when the sun is at the correct angle, natural light would flow down through all of the hallways. Would need to know about whether or not this could meet building codes and if there is a glass or glass-like structure that would be strong enough for this purpose.

Will the city require that a certain number of parking spaces are made available based on the number of units, if so, parking will have to be made underground (or possibly alse made out of containers if it is only one underground level) and the tenants who use the parking will have to pay for it extra.

Furnished or unfurnished? For an additional fee, the apartment can be made furnished. Since we are working with containers, we can have three or four unmodified containers dispersed throughout the building that store the furniture for tenants who use their own.