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This Caldwell factory holds a key to affordable housing. HUD’s Ben Carson came to see


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HUD Secretary Ben Carson tours IndieDwell, the local manufacturer that converts shipping containers into affordable homes, with U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher and Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas. | Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman

CALDWELL (Idaho Statesman) — Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said he had low hopes when he heard an Idaho company was taking metal shipping containers and turning them into homes.

“My expectation when I heard about container homes is that they would look like containers that somebody had painted over and put a few amenities in,” Carson said Monday after he walked through a three-bedroom home at IndieDwell’s factory in Caldwell.

“This is completely different. This is transformative, and it looks like a small site-built home. It’s been done very well and (there’s) a lot of creativity involved here.”

Carson came to the factory at 3520 Arthur St. after walking through one of the company’s homes during an innovative-housing showcase in June on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

He joined U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Russ Fulcher of Idaho, Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas and Gerald Hunter, executive director of the Idaho Housing and Finance Association. IndieDwell co-founders Scott Flynn and Peter Gombert led the tour.

Carson said he was impressed that IndieDwell could manufacture a two-bedroom home that sells for $85,000, far less than a comparably sized site-built house made from traditional materials.

“That means someone earning about $37,000 or $36,000 could afford this,” Carson said.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson, right, tours IndieDwell, the local manufacturer that converts shipping containers into affordable homes, in Caldwell Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. Sec. Carson was joined by U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher, Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas and Gerald Hunter of Idaho Housing and Finance Association. IndieDwell co-founders Scott Flynn and Pete Gombert explain the conversion process and show the finished living space. | Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman

He predicted container homes will become a major tool to help with the housing affordability problem across the country.

Unlike manufactured homes that lose value over time, container homes will maintain their value the same as a site-built home, giving buyers equity over time, Carson and IndieDwell executives said.

“So you’re accumulating value, allowing this to be sort of a first step, particularly for young people who might want to move up to something more substantial,” Carson said. “You’re not just throwing money away, in terms of rent. You’re accumulating equity.”

The home Carson walked through was the two-bedroom model with 640 square feet. It was made from two shipping containers.

“You have the ability to even expand on something like this, Carson said. “This is two modules together. You could get three, four or do stories. There’s a lot of possibilities.”

The availability of container homes could help alleviate the housing problem in places like Boise, where the median price in Ada County was $349,900 in July.

“The reason houses are that expensive is supply and demand,” Carson said. “If we can increase the supply with houses like this, demand goes down and prices stabilize.”

Wealth accumulation in the United States, Carson said, is primarily based upon home ownership. He said the net worth of a renter is $5,000, while the net worth of an average homeowner is $200,000.

Crapo noted that monthly costs for electricity and other utilities are less in container homes, because they’re more efficient than traditional homes thanks to better insulation and the use of higher-efficiency heating and cooling systems.

“This is an incredible effort to reduce the cost of home ownership, not just the initial price point but the operational aspect as well,” Crapo said.

The Statesman first wrote about IndieDwell in January 2018, after it built its first model home. Since then, IndieDwell has opened the factory in Caldwell and started producing homes, both for single families and in complexes.

More than a dozen modules were stored Monday in the factory storage yard, waiting to be trucked to properties and joined together.

The company employs more than 40 workers and has projects in Idaho, Colorado, California, Virginia and Florida.

“The interest coming from different areas and the validation of what we’re doing is really rewarding,” Gombert said.

Nancolas said Caldwell is fortunate to have IndieDwell operating its factory there. Workers earn a minimum of $16 an hour and have paid medical and dental insurance, along with other benefits.

“These are the types of jobs that will help Caldwell increase our household income, and obviously that helps businesses that those dollars roll over in the community,” Nancolas said.