Boxouse: Young Americans Turn to Alternative Housing
Signs of recovery in the American housing market–in architecture, engineering, construction, real estate–are increasing. Yet, in 2014, the market saw a new, disappointing record:
The number of homeowners under the age of 35 hit its lowest point ever.
Home ownership has long been synonymous with the American Dream. But where are the young people in this game? Some have turned to alternative housing solutions.
Pacific Standard magazine recently blogged the experience of Luke Iseman, a 31-year-old graduate of the Wharton business school, who lives in a white shipping container on a small lot in West Oakland. Driven from the traditional urban housing market as a renter by exorbitant rates in San Francisco, and holding more than $60,000 of student loan debt, Iseman is putting his burgeoning business savvy to good use for himself and others with the establishment of an alternative housing start-up called Boxouse.
“Iseman still has a number of legal obstacles to navigate in the future. The shipping containers themselves, and other parts of the property, are not up to housing code. Fortunately, city officials have responded well. “It’s exciting to see people being innovative about construction,” says Rachel Flynn, Oakland’s director of planning and building. Flynn notes a few other tiny-house projects in development throughout Oakland, including one the city had already granted a special-use permit to begin construction. Her main concern is ensuring safety. “With containers,” she says, “the big thing is figuring out how to incorporate them into the building code, since they’re not made to be lived in.”
Iseman and the other co-owners of the property are open to working with the city to bring things into compliance. Ultimately they hope their land can act as a hub where other community members can be connected with resources and organizations in the city geared toward starting similar projects. Iseman sees it as an opportunity for a diverse mix of long-time residents and newcomers to establish communal ownership in the area while development intensifies and rent increases. As he puts it, “I want to be able to say, ‘Here’s another site doing something similar’ or ‘Here’s how to start your own.’”
Iseman’s vision coincides with an apparent increased social awareness of urban overcrowding, high rent prices, a widening wealth gap in the United States, and parallels the Tiny House Movement and push for Small Living. It’s an exciting time for the A&E community.