California developer might use shipping containers for low-income housing

Proposal includes 200 micro-units in Santa Clara, Calif.

John Sobrato
John Sobrato

California developer John Sobrato spent decades building offices for Silicon Valley tech giants. These days the billionaire businessman wants to build micro-apartments for homeless and low-income renters using repurposed shipping containers.

Sobrato — who has promised to give away his $5.8 billion fortune — is looking to build 200 micro-apartments in Santa Clara, Calif., on a 2.5-acre city-owned plot. His plan includes 160- and 240-square-foot units equipped with a kitchenette and bathroom, according to Bloomberg.

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Sobrato asked to lease the site, which currently houses a car dealership, for 57 years for $1 a year. In exchange, his company would build and own the apartments — to be called Innovation Place — but lease them back to Santa Clara County to manage.

“Instead of sleeping in a pup tent or under an overpass, Santa Clara homeless folks will have a clean, dignified, safe place to call home,” Sobrato said during a recent City Council meeting, where lawmakers granted his request to to lease the property.

Housing advocates have turned to tiny homes as a possible way to provide affordable housing to homeless or low-income renters. San Francisco-based developer Panoramic Interests has backed a plan similar to Sobrato’s, which would use steel containers as stackable pod apartments. [Bloomberg] — E.B. Solomont