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Randel Jacob of Arizona-based RJDG Collaborative designed the Stackhouse tower, which holds 62 container homes; 40 shares in the property are for sale and 22 homes are available to try—for a three-, six- or 12-month stay—before you buy. Image courtesy of Stackhouse
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An Innovative Solution to Denver’s Housing Woes is Taking Shape on West Colfax

Stackhouse, a vertical community tower designed to accommodate portable shipping container homes, offers an affordable alternative to traditional single-family homes.

“Here in Denver, everyone is talking about housing all day, every day,” says Ryan Egan, co-founder of Stackhouse, a new affordable-housing option under construction on West Colfax. We’ve all heard the conversations: Many people who work in Denver can’t afford to live in Denver; houses are going under contract for 20 percent above asking the moment they hit the MLS; and homeowners who would like to move to a new neighborhood are hesitating for fear that they won’t be able to find a new place, keeping inventory low and prices high. “It’s an infuriatingly simple and complex problem all at the same time,” Egan says.

But the real-estate industry veteran with a specialty in unit entitlement, commercial real estate, and property development is offering one solution with Stackhouse, which he and partner Janelle Briggs are bringing to Denver, not far from Sloan’s Lake.

From the street, Stackhouse looks a lot like a traditional apartment building, with rows of balconies stacked atop a redbrick storefront. But behind that façade is a steel structure comprising 62 docking stations for shipping containers that have been transformed into 320-square-foot private homes. And what looks like an atrium at the building’s core is actually an eight-story-tall hoist-way, through which the portable containers can be lifted up and down as new residents move in and former ones move out.

 

The ability to come and go is one of the perks of living with Stackhouse, which plans to expand nationwide by 2025, and to Europe, Asia, and Australia after that. Just as boat owners can sail from marina to marina, docking at slips for a pre-arranged fee, Stackhouse owners will be able to park their containers at any Stackhouse tower where space is available. They’ll simply plug into utilities (which are set up just once, upon joining Stackhouse, and paid for in one monthly fee), arrange an inspection, obtain a certificate of occupancy, and move in the following day. “We foresee that you can live in your Stackhouse home as you relocate from LA to Tokyo,” Briggs says.

Though each tower will maintain some units in which potential residents can try the concept before they buy—essentially renting a container home for a three-, six- or 12-month stay—the majority of occupants will own their space via shares in a co-op. Here in Denver, “you technically own shares in the corporation that owns 3425 W. Colfax,” Egan explains, “which gives you the right to be issued a lease that says you can park your Stackhouse container home in that space. You can rent out your space to any other Stackhouse member, but you can’t rent out the container home itself”; space-renters must dock their own containers. When Stackhouse owners decide to leave the Stackhouse life, they’ll either sell or take their container home with them, and can either rent their share or sell it at market rate to the next owner in the co-op.

Like typical tiny houses, Stackhouse container homes—which are manufactured by Denver-based Roxbox to meet federal code—fit a lot of function into a compact footprint. Each unit—insulated and finished just like a traditional stick-built home—offers 320 square feet configured in a studio, one-bedroom, or one-bedroom-plus floorplan. All include living and sleeping areas, kitchens, private baths, washer/dryer units, and an additional 120 square feet of outdoor living space.

Unlike traditional tiny homes, Stackhouse container homes don’t require their owners to find a plot of land to put them on. “Tiny homes are so difficult because they’re either outlawed in particular cities or the zoning is so complicated that lay people can’t traverse the system,” Briggs says. “The real magic of the Stackhouse concept is that it solves all of the local zoning challenges.” Following multifamily zoning enables Stackhouse to build in downtown cores, where residents can enjoy walkability and easy access to transportation. “We want the folks who live in our communities to be able to zip over to work or school or the grocery store,” Briggs says.

The Stackhouse design team also avoided the headache of navigating local building codes by designing a tower that meets the most stringent code in the country: San Francisco’s. “All we have to do is make quick adaptations to local code,” Briggs says, “and San Francisco also has sister code agreements in 14 cities around the world, so we’re globally ready to build from day one.”

The goal, she says, is to license the Stackhouse patent portfolio to developers in big cities like New York City and Chicago, “where every square inch of land is spoken for but not necessarily built on. We designed this as an infill solution—we can build a tower on a lot as small as 5,000 square feet. We recognize that housing everyone who needs it is a Herculean feat that we can’t do alone, so we’ve tried to set up our company so we can partner with folks and move quickly.”

Container homes are transported by truck to and from Stackhouse towers. Image by Alexander Basler, Studio Archonomous; courtesy of Stackhouse

Stackhouse’s studio, one-bedroom, and one-bedroom-plus units are priced at $110,000, $120,000, and $130,000 respectively, and shares in the tower range from $200,000 for a ground-floor space to $350,000 for a top-floor space with mountain views, making all-in ownership between $310,000 and $480,000. Egan and Briggs expect the price of the container homes to fall at scale, and the cost of developing new towers to decrease as lenders currently wary of innovative housing begin to embrace the concept. “Any time you do something new, the first run is the most expensive,” Briggs says, “so we’re especially grateful to the folks who are applying to be in this Denver development because they recognize they’re paying a premium to help us revolutionize the real-estate space.”

To date, more than 2,000 people—from millennials priced out of the traditional home-ownership market to downsizing Gen Xers and boomers—have expressed an interest in living at Stackhouse Denver. The application process is open until the end of September, when a randomizer will narrow the list to 40 lucky new homeowners. The Denver tower, under construction now, is slated for completion in fall 2022. To learn more, visit stackhouse.life

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