Haiti’s New Homes: They’re Cheap, Mobile and Highly Recyclable

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Buyers' Choice Realty



Can Shipping Containers provide much needed housing for the million displaced Haitians? 

Why not?  Shipping containers are cheap, mobile and highly recyclable.  They’re pre-insulated and already have hardwood floors.  They’re strong, resistant to mold, termites and fire and above all they’re plentiful.   Our trade deficit has left hundreds of thousands of empty shipping containers piling up in storage yards all over the country. 

The City of Los Angeles might gladly donate hundreds of thousands of these containers to Haiti.  Please watch the videos and tell me what you think of this idea!



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Mirela Monte
Buyers' Choice Realty - North Myrtle Beach, SC
Myrtle Beach Real Estate

Here is a great link explaining one of the ways  we have worked it:


Feb 05, 2010 11:26 AM #1
Terrie Leighton
Ferrari-Lund Real Estate - Reno, NV
Reno Real Estate Agent ~ Selling Homes in Reno

I think it is a great idea. Millions of shipping containers that are not being used, nor will they ever be used, why not ship them to Haiti to try and help the housing, or lack of, situation there.

Feb 05, 2010 11:36 AM #2
Silvia Dukes PA, Broker Associate, CRS, CIPS, SRES
Tropic Shores Realty - Ich spreche Deutsch! - Spring Hill, FL
Florida Waterfront and Country Club Living

Mirela, I think it's a great idea that could provide immediate shelter until other housing can be built. The concept is not unlike modular homes.

Feb 05, 2010 12:00 PM #3
Antonio & Alexia Cardenas
Alameda County - San Leandro, CA. - San Leandro, CA
"The Realtors In Motion"
Mirela, that is a great idea, specially in an island like Haiti where the lack of rebar and cement make it difficult to build strong homes. Maybe we raise some money to help buy some containers here in AR... Antonio
Feb 05, 2010 01:18 PM #4
Larry Story
Total Care Realty - Greensboro, NC
Total Care Realty, LLC, Greensboro, NC Real Estate


I have seen some of the prototypes and different designs they actually would be an excellent idea and better then what they had before the earthquake in many cases.  The only problem at this point is the port is no where near fully operational.  Of course they just need to make sure they are well anchored because of hurricanes.

Feb 05, 2010 02:52 PM #5
Steve, Joel & Steve A. Chain
Chain Real Estate Investments & Mortgage, Steve & Joel Chain - Cottonwood, CA


They do have their advantages in the right setting like Haiti. Part of the issue is cost of transportation versus alternative materials and manpower that maybe available closer to the need. I will say I've seen some self contained units that did show some good planning.JMHO


Feb 05, 2010 03:58 PM #6
Mirela Monte
Buyers' Choice Realty - North Myrtle Beach, SC
Myrtle Beach Real Estate

Larry: Temporary and permanent repairs to the port have begun and two large pontoons with 200 mt cranes will be put in place.

A US Military ship is offshore with the capacity to offload large ships, stuff containers and ship the loads in using lighters or barges

Piling will be installed at the PAP port on February 8 – 9 and ready for cargo operations as of February 10 with one 120m x 30m dock and a 200 mt crane.

There are two wharfs in Jacmel suitable for roros and landing crafts which could provide a possible point of entry to areas in need.

If we started facilitating this on a large scale right now, it would probably take a few weeks to get the first batch of containers to Haiti (the red tape alone would take that long, never mind the transport).  Ideally these containers should be retrofitted before shipping, to render them ready for installation once they make it to Haiti.  Please see:

Building a Container House

Perhaps we could ask someone like Brad Pitt to head a non-profit organization specifically put in place for this reason.  Brad did an amazing job with sustainable housing in New Orleans after Katrina, pouring some of his own millions into this effort.  See pictures here.

Feb 05, 2010 04:08 PM #7
Mirela Monte
Buyers' Choice Realty - North Myrtle Beach, SC
Myrtle Beach Real Estate

Terrie:  Exactly!

Silvia:  Right!  It's really not just temporary housing.  These are efficient, durable and are currently being used in the LA area by some innovative designers as sustainable housing for ecologically sensitive clients as permanent homes.  Have you checked out the third video?  There are some very appealing, modern homes there.

Antonio: Great point:

"That is a great idea, specially in an island like Haiti where the lack of rebar and cement make it difficult to build strong homes."

I also think we don't even have to pay for them; it appears they are quite a nuisance for the City of Los Angeles and we may possibly get them donated.

Steve & Joel:  I don't think transport will be a big problem.  The World has showered Haiti with it's generosity.

Feb 05, 2010 04:32 PM #8

Haitians have been tweeting abot the container shelters since the earthquake hit because we are aware if the rainy season coming up,

The conversation has progressed from are these good idea shelters to how can we get containers out there as urgently as possible afrolatina on twitter has been the main ne outspoken about containers for haiti, please shift speeds, and express the need and not the possibilities of this happening, if you guys can get the containers the Haitians there will make quick work for shelter, again from the Haitian community, but seems like

Our urgencies and worries always come 2 weeks befor people even care, in that delaying the process in which everyone trys to help too late.

Feb 07, 2010 01:06 AM #9

Great idea, and it may be a good long-term solution. But basic math makes this an inadequate emergency shelter for Haiti -- with the arrival of rains, and hurricane season (which battered Haiti with 4 hurricanes a couple years ago) coming in less than 90 days.

At present, 1,200,000 Haitians need emergency shelter, and tarps are not coming fast enough, let alone tents. Tarps are not going to survive a hurricane, nor even a lot of regular storms.

If each container can shelter 6 Haitians, it will take 200,000 containers.

To ship 200,000 containers will require about 1,000 cross-country trains  -- 2 containers per railroad car, times 100 cars per train (plus locomotives) -- for loading onto ships at Caribbean ports. At 10 trains a day, that's 100 days.

All the ports of Haiti and the Domincan Republic -- combined -- probably cannot recieve, offload and transport 2,000 containers a day.

To move the containers from ports to refugee camps, several 100-truck convoys must run day and night between ports and camps -- unimaginable with Haiti's original infrastructure, let alone the mess after the quake.  Trucks and roads in Haiti are already busy with urgent movements of relief personnel, medical supplies, food, and water.  The convoys will find movement difficult, if even possible.

The container-shelter refugee-camp locations are unclear, and -- as yet -- largely unavailable.  Haiti's land management problems are severe -- with no solid government system for commandeering land in an emergency, and land held by thousands of individual landowners jealously clinging to tiny parcels. Haitians cling to their land as their only "social security".  It is already a problem to acquire adequate land for refugee and aid camps.  "Container towns" will require far more land.

The administrative hassles are huge.  Negotiations will probably involve container owners, storage lot owners, crane and truck operators, railroads and ship companies, port authorities, longshoremen's unions, local government, the U.S. Federal government, Haiti's government, and God only knows who else. Heaven help us if a legal case or Act of Congress is involved.

Inside door latches are all that need to be fitted to the containers, probably, to make them adequately habitable to meet the threat of the storms.  But that will add a bit of time to the process, even if every day 2,000 containers a day are retrofitted before shipment -- while the previous day's 2,000 refitted containers are shipped.

In the meantime, it is clear that the containers won't make it in time for most Haitians facing storms, and already facing death from exposure (often quake-wounded), spreading disease (in overcrowded tarp-camps), and violence (due to overcrowding and rising frustration with conditions).

While container homes may be a good long-term plan, something more urgent is needed -- better than simply tarps -- to immediately shelter Haitians with available resources.

Only dirt, rocks and rubble are plentiful in Haiti, now.  Rubble (from collapsed structures) can be used to erect low walls to shield tarps and their residents from severe winds and horizontal rain.

An illustrated description of the concept -- with possible complications and solutions -- is detailed in the article "Lemonade from Lemons: Sheltering Haitians with Rubble" -- posted online at http://betterjudge.newsvine.com

Both solutions -- rubble walls and container homes -- are needed. But first things first. Review it, comment on it, and share with others. The rains have started.

Feb 19, 2010 06:26 PM #10
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Mirela Monte

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