Entrepreneur suggests solution to Park City housing crisis with container homes
April 14, 2018
Blake Christian has always taken it upon himself to find solutions to problems. While working in tax consulting for more than 35 years, he has started about 25 businesses to find solutions in the software, retail and restaurant industries, he said.
Now, he is working on a solution to the lack of affordable housing in Park City and other mountain towns. He reuses shipping containers to create homes.
The idea for Park City Base Camp, as he calls his idea for a local workforce housing community, started brewing about seven years ago. Christian was living in Long Beach, California, and saw the millions of unused shipping containers at the nearby port. He knew that there was a lack of affordable housing in the beach town, so he thought about using the containers to make homes.
By combining a love of minimalist and sustainable living, he struck on the idea to build an apartment complex using shipping containers that would include a spacious common room but small living spaces.
"People thought it was intriguing, but no one really wanted to spend any time on it," he said.
He kept the idea in mind when he moved to Park City and saw a similar workforce housing problem.
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After speaking to city and county officials and resort owners about his idea, he decided that he could no longer just talk. He needed to act.
"I finally got to the point that it was like 'put up or shut up," he said. "So I built the thing."
Christian partnered with Roi Maufas, chief executive officer of Salt Lake City-based Gorilla Engineering and Design, to design and build a 350-square-foot home, complete with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room. The house is sustainable, with bamboo materials for the cabinets, beds and flooring, and solar panels that allow the home to be completely off the electrical grid.
He also designed different layout plans, from dorm-style apartments to a whole community of homes, which was his original plan.
Christian held tours of the structure at the Utah Film Studios at the end of March and said that the responses were "overwhelmingly positive."
Andy Beerman, mayor of Park City, toured the home and said that he was "impressed by both the design and the eco-friendly aspects of it."
Beerman said that the city needs to look at creative concepts to solve the housing need, but finding a place for new homes to go is a major challenge. Tiny homes such as the Park City Base Camp are currently not permitted in Park City, but Beerman said that the code is always evolving and that the permitting of small homes has come up in city planning discussions.
One of the benefits of Christian's small homes is that they are portable, so they can be placed somewhere during a testing period, Christian said.
"We can try these for a couple years," he said. "Put them on vacant land, nobody is going to be building there. … When something more permanent gets approved, we're out of there."
He said that they could move seasonally as well. They could remain in Park City during the winter but go to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, during the summer, when there tends to be an influx of employees. He hopes to bring the homes to communities that have workforce housing problems, including mountain towns with ski resorts that require seasonal work.
Or, the houses could stay in Park City in the summer months and be used by visitors who are on a budget, Christian said.
Beth Armstrong, executive director of the People's Health Clinic, also toured the structure and said that the portability and durability of it intrigued her. The lack of affordable housing is an issue that she is acutely aware of because she works with families who cannot afford medical care.
"Most of our patients live in something equally that size with people sleeping on floors," she said.
She said that the idea could be viable in Park City if it is put in the right location.
Christian said he knows that it is not his idea alone that could solve the problem, but a joined effort from the private sector, government agencies and employers. And he said that it is about time that those groups come together to find a solution.
"It's been a three-decade problem," he said. "If we don't come up with a solution in the next five years, people are not going to want to come work."
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