How Shipping Containers Are Being Used to Increase Housing in Phoenix

A look inside the studio Sparkbox unit. (Photo courtesy of the city of Phoenix)

By Jessica Swarner

March 2, 2023

Steel + Spark is also involved in a larger-scale shelter project in Phoenix using structures the company calls “XWings.”

The city of Phoenix has turned an empty lot in the downtown area into a showcase for local company Steel + Spark’s SPARKBOX refurbished shipping container homes. 

The five tiny homes will be on display at Roosevelt and Second streets through May. 

The shipping container homes—which can be heated and cooled—come in two models: a studio with no bathroom, and an accessible one-bedroom, one-bathroom container. They are solar-powered during the day, lithium battery-powered at night, and don’t need to be connected to utilities. 

“These are completely off-grid,” Steel + Spark co-founder Brian Stark said at a Feb. 8 event unveiling the display. “There’s no power hooked up to any of these containers.” 

A look inside the one-bedroom, one-bathroom Sparkbox unit (photo courtesy of the city of Phoenix)

The model with the bathroom used an incinerator toilet, which the company said saves 2,000 gallons of water per person per year.  

Stark said he envisions these homes as expansions of an existing home to accommodate aging family members, adult children with special needs, and more. The company delivers the units fully assembled, and they can be dropped by crane into place.  

“The hope is that we can put these in people’s backyards where mom can move in and age in place and really take advantage of generational living,” Stark said. 

According to Stark, the studio costs around $80,000 and the larger one is about $200,000. 

A Larger-scale Model

Steel + Spark is also involved in a larger-scale shelter project in Phoenix using structures the company calls “XWings.”

The city in December allocated $21 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding to “address homelessness as rapidly as possible,” with $3 million going to Steel + Spark. 

The project, as outlined by the city, includes four shipping container “pods” designed in an ‘X’ shape to create private sleeping areas on city-owned land. The first installation will be placed at 22nd Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road. 

Scott Hall, deputy director of Phoenix’s Office of Homeless Solutions, told The Copper Courier the XWings will sleep a total of 76 people, with two structures housing individuals and the other two for couples. 

RELATED: Pregnant Phoenix Mom Finds Safe Home in UMOM’s New Affordable Housing Complex

Hall said the site will be a closed-campus model requiring a referral for entry, with a focus on providing shelter to people camping outside the Human Services Campus at 12th Avenue and Madison Street, an area also known as the Zone. 

“People who are unsheltered around the campus will be referred in, and that’s going to be one of our priority populations going into this shelter,” he said. 

The site will include two other shelters sleeping an additional 200 people. The site will also have bathrooms, laundry, storage, and other communal spaces. 

Hall said the city is preparing to develop the land and does not have a finalized name for the site, which is projected to open by the summer. 

“We’re trying to do it as soon as possible so we get people off the streets before the extreme heat,” Hall said. 

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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