Look inside LA’s new steel container apartments for the homeless


The Hope on Alvarado project transformed steel shipping containers into an apartment complex for formerly homeless people. (Photo: John Bare,
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From the outside, the Hope on Alvarado apartments look pretty much like any new development. The building northwest of downtown is five stories tall, its floor-to-ceiling windows and steel exterior give it a modern industrial feel.

But inside, things look different than in a new apartment complex. The units are steel containers (much like the shipping containers you see loaded at the Port of Los Angeles docks) that have been converted into micro apartments. The common areas are filled with amenities and resources to support the building’s former homeless residents.

The 87 units are all small, admitted Mark Oberholzer, an architect who worked on the project. Floor plans are all 320 square foot studios or 480 square foot one bedroom apartments.

Despite their size, they are far from seedy. They have beautiful flooring, space saving barn doors for the bathrooms and are fully furnished.

“But I think for me the most pleasing aspect of the units is the amount of glass,” Oberholzer said. “To me, and I’m not sure if everyone would agree, the aesthetic of the building is more like an upscale condo building. And for people who spend a lot of time in their units first, it’s important to have plenty of natural light.

A kitchen and living room can be seen inside one of the units. (Photo: John Bare, [email protected])

The architects also paid attention to shared spaces. There are spaces where people can congregate, such as a lounge area with a TV and table football, but also outdoor spaces where people can be alone if they fancy more privacy.

“We try to meet people where they come from,” Oberholzer said. “They are just adapting. I mean, imagine what it’s like to have nowhere of your own space, and then move into an apartment, and just all the stuff – you know, key cards, access, all your own appliances, cleaning – all of those things you have to adapt to. »

On-site staff are also there to help residents with any challenges they may face as they transition out of homelessness, whether it’s getting a doctor’s appointment or getting a driving license.

The real advantage of this type of modular steel housing, Oberholzer explained, is the speed with which the buildings can be constructed and assembled. Steel containers are converted to apartments off-site, which means that work can start at the same time as a foundation is laid and a framework is being built. Once the bones of the building are in place, the containers simply need to be dropped into place and locked together.

“In Los Angeles in particular, but also in California, it’s like you can hardly build housing fast enough to meet the needs. The more time passes, the more expensive housing becomes, the more homeless there are,” Oberholzer said. “And that’s really one of the great things that modular [construction] help with.

A modular unit is put in place by a crane. (Photo: KTGY)

This project was a kind of test, Oberholzer said. Three projects like the Hope on Alvarado building are set to open around Los Angeles this year.


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