Shipping containers offer affordable housing, entrepreneurial space alternative

Wanona Satcher

ReJuve, an Atlanta-based, women-and minority-owned nonprofit recently launched Plug-In-Pods, shipping containers repurposed as affordable housing and entrepreneurial spaces in low-wealth communities.

It started as an ifundwomen.org crowdfunding campaign to build a prototype, which recently led to a contract in the 31-acre Pittsburgh Yards development along the Southside BeltLine corridor.

“It’s a holistic approach to community development. How do we disrupt the displacement of low-wealth communities, of seniors and veterans? By providing equitable space where people come together to solve problems,” ReJuve founder Wanona Satcher said. “It’s about identifying real problems, developing new systems and investing in people.”

Satcher’s vision is a culmination of her professional experiences in landscape architecture, city planning, economic development and community engagement. Her idea six years ago on behalf of the city of Durham, North Carolina to transform dilapidated properties into community lab spaces was a Bloomberg Philanthropies National Innovation Program finalist.

After retiring from government and heading back home to Atlanta, Satcher sought to use containers as a quicker cost effective approach “to create quality equitable communities and build local economic capacity”.

“Plug-In-Pods name came from the notion of not telling residents how they should live, but plugging into the existing context,” Satcher said. “Residents should always be at the front-end of any engagement process.”

Though used overseas and in other U.S. cities, this concept received mixed reactions in Atlanta. “People say ‘I’ve seen that on HGTV, that’s awesome’ or ‘why would you want to live in something like that?” Satcher said.

A rendering of a shipping container transformed into a home.

She’s eager to show that she can design and construct these pods in a way that’s comfortable, secure and affordable.

It’s a tool to help alleviate displacement. “For example, our goal for a senior in fear of being displaced is to have a rental Plug-In-Pod behind their house for a millennial or a veteran. This allows the resident to stay, gain income and have a sense of companionship.” Satcher said, “Our biggest challenge is the current City of Atlanta zoning code. We hope the ability to build accessory dwelling units expands to larger sections of the city.”

With 60 percent of her $20,000 ifundwomen.org goal met, Satcher began the 160 square feet prototype in West End. It will serve as her ReJuve office, and a compelling model for other homeowners, renters, start-ups and community services.

“They create a necessary buzz as communities see a new business, community space, or mobile clinic on the ground quicker than what they have been promised in the future,” Satcher said. And the containers can be replaced by a more permanent structure when a startup has gained traction.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation took notice of the prototype campaign and hired ReJuve to build two Plug-In-Pods for the mixed-use Pittsburgh Yards project in Southwest Atlanta.

“It’s exciting because my family is originally from the Pittsburgh neighborhood,” Satcher said.

One pod is for storage and the other is for an office space. A covered courtyard between the two will serve as an outdoor community meeting space.

“Developers love that you can quickly activate a site with the pods, generate income and move them to make way for more development,” Satcher said. Depending on the use, she can build a space for half the time and cost of construction.

Satcher

Her sustainable innovative pods have also caught the eye of the state. “We heard that the Department of Community Affairs is highly interested in figuring out how to certify these kinds of buildings in a way that makes the inspections process easier,” Satcher added. “We’re here to help.”

Satcher believes Plug-In-Pods should also be a major part of the city and state workforce development conversations.

“I can hire people from the community to build a very simple building and provide practical experience for students,” Satcher said. She’s already connected with Atlanta Technical College’s Construction Worker Certificate Program.

Taking her vision to scale will require additional funding and more partners. With a large manufacturing space on the Westside, Satcher could produce more Plug-in-Pods ideally for affordable housing and small viable commercial spaces.

“It would be great to connect with the BeltLine and the Mayor’s new blighted properties program,” Satcher said.

“There’s an opportunity to reutilize existing materials, practice sustainability, promote economic development and design for equity in a way that can challenge this notion of gentrification and displacement in a growing city like Atlanta. That’s really what it’s about.”

For more information and to donate, visit https://ifundwomen.com/projects/plug-pods-shipping-containers-social-good.

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