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Strategic Habitats: La Jolla resident turns shipping containers into homes to help San Diego’s homeless

La Jollan Cory Segall founded Strategic Habitats to turn shipping containers into homes for homeless people.
La Jollan Cory Segall founded Strategic Habitats to turn shipping containers into homes for homeless people.
(Courtesy)

La Jollan Cory Segall has begun an initiative to bring low-cost, accessible housing to homeless people by converting shipping containers into portable homes.

The project is called Strategic Habitats, an offshoot of Segall’s father’s company, Strategic Operations, which has been converting shipping containers into military training facilities to simulate various buildings and scenarios since 2003.

Segall, a Windansea resident who graduated from La Jolla High School and then San Diego State University, recently formed Strategic Habitats to take 40-foot shipping containers and outfit them inside and out with all the comforts of home: electricity, plumbing, kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms.

“We’re well-versed in working with containers,” said Segall, who also works for Strategic Operations.

“We put everything together — furniture and appliances,” said Segall, who draws on his concurrent experience as a residential Realtor. “We make it really nice; it can be furnished or unfurnished. Any family would enjoy these.”

Before-and-after photos of a shipping container fully converted into a portable home.
(Courtesy)

The units also are sturdy. “The bones are stronger than any new construction, because the interior is steel,” Segall said, adding that the container-turned-dwellings are a “much stronger solution” for earthquakes.

Segall said he came up with the idea for Strategic Habitats because “we knew there was a problem [of homelessness]. There just wasn’t a solution.”

Strategic Habitats’ mission, Segall said, “is to help underprivileged families and the homeless have a place to go to off the streets. It gives them a way out of the situation they’re in and helps them regain their self-confidence and get back out into the world.”

“It’s not a permanent solution, but it definitely helps,” he added. “This would be a strong alternative to help with cleanliness and health.”

Strategic Habitats' container conversions are fully outfitted with electricity, plumbing, furniture and appliances.
Strategic Habitats’ container conversions are fully outfitted with electricity, plumbing, furniture and appliances.
(Courtesy)

Segall has been consulting with Alpha Project, a nonprofit homeless-services organization, to learn more about the viability of the units as solutions for the homeless.

Bob McElroy, president of Alpha Project, said 27,000 people are registered in the city’s data system who identify as homeless. “There’s a lot of people,” he said.

Segall said he hopes Strategic Habitats succeeds in lowering homeless numbers around San Diego and helping the city maintain cleanliness. He said he’d like to eventually widen the project’s scope.

Transforming the containers into homes is a speedy process, Segall said. “It goes a lot quicker than new construction. Usually we can build these units in three to four weeks.”

The units’ portability adds to their appeal, he said. No foundation is needed, so the homes can be put “anywhere in San Diego County, wherever someone has land.”

Strategic Habitats typically gets the shipping containers, which are usually used to ship freight around the world, out of Long Beach, Segall said. “We transport them ... here to Kearny Mesa. We’ll retrofit them, we’ll manufacture everything and then ship it [via truck] to the actual area and install it.”

One unit is about 480 square feet, which fits a family of four, Segall said. Many units are built to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards, which he said “a lot of [homeless] people need.”

McElroy viewed the models and told the La Jolla Light that “they’re outstanding.”

The cost per unit for new construction of low-income housing is around $400,000, he said. With Strategic Habitats’ units estimated at $120,000 each to acquire, retrofit, ship and install, Segall’s project is “phenomenal,” McElroy said.

“They’re beautiful,” McElroy said. “I don’t get enthusiastic about much, but I am about this. Our people need it so badly.”

Strategic Habitats is working with the city of San Diego and the Housing Commission, along with a team of land-use consultants and others, to seek funding for the portable housing units via city grants, Segall said. He’s also working with churches that have land.

Turning containers into homes was a natural way for Segall to tackle the homelessness issue. “We’ve been doing stuff with the military since 2003,” he said. “We love giving back and helping. There’s a lot of wounded vets out there with PTSD that are now homeless. We just wanted to find some way to help, and we took our experience and built something for people.”

Strategic Habitats has model units available to view in Kearny Mesa. For more information, email corysegall@gmail.com.