Shipping container motel a solution for Estevan housing crisis: 'Small but comfy' bachelor rooms in a farmer's field

CBC News, March 18, 2014 - The CanStay Motel, made out of converted shipping containers, is housing tradespeople who have had difficulty finding affordable rental units in the small but booming city of Estevan, Sask. The unique motel sits in a farmers field west of Estevan. Each 40 foot-long sea-can has been adapted into two rooms, each with a door, window, bed, television, kitchenette, and private bathroom with a shower. There are 15 bachelor units in all.

Logan Kirk, 27, is a pipe-fitter from Regina and was relieved to find an affordable motel near his work site, the Boundary Dam.

"The other places were anywhere from $1500 a month, to $2000 a month. So, a lot more affordable," said Kirk, who is paying $1,050 per month for his unit. "It's small, but has pretty much everything that I like in a place to stay."

Estevan has grappled with a chronic housing shortage for several years. The influx of people working in the oil and gas industry far exceeded the city's rental capacity.

A Lego-like solution

Two years ago, the Bryson family decided to get into the housing business, but were reluctant to build a motel.

Theo Bryson and his parents were watching CBC's Dragon's Den and saw the Saskatoon company 3twenty Modular show how it converts steel shipping containers into houses. Bryson's investment was roughly $30,000 dollars per motel room.

"These units are a little bit more than the wood ones, but the selling point for us was movability," Bryson said. "If anything changes in the Estevan area, we can easily move the units anywhere we want." 

Bryson was also impressed at how quickly they were able to assemble the motel. 3twenty Modular manufactured and delivered the units in less than two months.

"It was actually harder to line up a trucker to ship them down than for them to build them," says Bryson.

In Saskatoon, the company's CEO, Bryan McCrea, confirms that he has received a number of inquires from affordable housing agencies and First Nations in Saskatchewan that are also eager to find solutions to their own housing crises.

Started by students


The company was founded by University of Saskatchewan students who had brainstormed a solution for student housing shortages. However, since its inception, 3twenty Modular has mostly focused on converting sea-cans into workforce housing for mining, oil and gas companies in northern Saskatchewan and Alberta. In those cases, bedroom prices range from $15,000 to $90,000 depending on the amenities.

But last year the Department of National Defense contracted them to build a 180 -person apartment complex for its airforce base in Alberta. They did it in 59 days

"Basically we can build any building with, condos, even townhouses," said Evan Willoughby, engineer and co-founder of 3twenty Modular. "I think there's a future there. We'd just have to do it right." 

3twenty Modular CEO Bryan McCrea has already studied how shipping cans could be adapted to serve remote First Nations communities, but hasn't committed to any construction projects yet.

"Longer term, we can really utilize the durability of our structures and ease of installation and eventually get into on-reserve housing for the Aboriginal marketplace as well," he said. 

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