Los Angeles used refurbished shipping containers to build housing complex for the homeless 

Homelessness has been a long-standing issue in Los Angeles, affecting an estimated 60,000 people in the area. Luckily, there are several groups out there devoting their time and resources to help tackle this problem.

NAC Architecture and Bernards built The Hilda L Solis Care First Village—formerly known as the Vignes Street Interim Housing Project—to provide shelter for the homeless in LA.

The project is named after Hilda L. Solis, the LA County Board of Supervisors chair, and is located on a 4.2-acre site in Downtown Los Angeles.

The Hilda L. Solis Care First Village
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The housing structure is made of shipping containers and can accommodate 232 people experiencing homelessness or those in transition.

The facility was created by NAC Architecture and Bernards, a builder and construction management company based in California, in collaboration with LA County’s Department of Public Works. The site previously held a parking lot and was set to become a staging area to build a new Men’s Central Jail.

But plans changed in 2019 as officials began exploring the idea of using the location as a site for housing the homeless. When COVID-19 hit last year, the county decided to move forward with the housing plans.

The Hilda L. Solis Care First Village
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“With the unhoused population growing and increasingly at risk during Covid-19, the need was immediate. Schedule became a critical driver,” said the team.

The team came up with several trailers, each divided into five units designated for interim housing. There are also two multilevel main buildings made up of refurbished shipping containers with 132 units of permanent housing each.

They used three different modular components—mobile units, wood-framed prefabricated units, and repurposed shipping containers.

“The shipping containers are stacked, fixed in place, and use an attached structure of open corridors and stairs to facilitate access to each unit,” NAC Architecture said.

The modular elements helped speed up the completion of the project as they could be built off-site.

Inside a unit at The Hilda L. Solis Care First Village
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“Design, permitting, and construction of the project was aggressively accelerated to meet the heightened need for people living on Los Angeles’ streets in the midst of a pandemic,” NAC Architecture said.

And true enough, the village was completed in just six months. Aside from the housing units, it also features a common building with a commercial kitchen, dining area, laundry facilities, administrative spaces, landscaped courtyards, parking spots for staff and residents, and a dog park.

The building also offers support services such as case management and counseling to cater to permanent and interim residents.

“Public Housing for those unhoused individuals on our streets, coupled with a long-term focus on ancillary services—such as mental and behavioral healthcare, which encompass true comprehensive redirection of the growing population of individuals experiencing homelessness—are long absent and much-needed infrastructure projects for our modern times,” said Bernards’ vice president Mike Funderberg.

Each container holds two living units measuring 12.5 square meters. To make the cargo containers more suitable for living, the team cut large windows in them and fully insulated the walls and the ceiling.

Each apartment has all the basics—a bed, flat screen, mini-fridge, microwave, and private bathroom. The containers were refurbished by California company Crate.

The Hilda L. Solis Care First Village
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The buildings’ walls are painted white and vibrant shades of orange and yellow.

The team also kept safety in mind when designing the building. They fitted every unit with its own heating and ventilation systems to mitigate the spread of the virus and help improve the residents’ autonomy.

The village opened in April 2021 and reached full capacity the following month—yet another testament to how badly people need housing amid the pandemic.

The entire project cost $57 million, of which $52 million came from the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The rest was covered by the local government.

“I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish, and that is re-imagining Los Angeles County with steps toward our commitment towards realizing a Care First, Jail Last model,” said Solis.

You can learn more about the Hilda L. Solis Care First Village in the video below.

Homelessness is a serious national problem that needs sustainable solutions. Hopefully, we see more similar villages built in other parts of the country!

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