SG Blocks and the Future of Affordable Housing

When you think “shipping container,” the image that comes to mind isn’t one of a residential home—but soon, thanks to SG Blocks, it will be. While typically a shipping container travels by sea with its main purpose being the delivery of goods from point a to point b, SG Blocks has found a new purpose for these sturdy steel structures. To put it simply, the company uses shipping containers to build commercial spaces—collaborating with big names like Starbucks and Equinox—and residential homes, providing a sustainable, affordable housing option for those at an economic disadvantage.

At the inception of the company in 2008, SG Blocks CEO Paul Galvin had spent 25 years supporting homeless New Yorkers by providing them with affordable housing by the time he met company co-founder David Cross. Cross had used the shipping containers to build a residential home in Charleston, SC—the first of its kind. From there, the two saw the potential in these structures—offering us a future where affordable housing is available and convenient for those who are struggling financially and are forced to spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing.

While SG Blocks has racked up an impressive portfolio of commercial projects, the company has recently expanded with an extension focused solely on residential projects. SG Residential, spearheaded by David Villarreal, aims to provide first-time homebuyers with green, cost-effective modular homes, an incredibly attractive alternative to the perils of the typical residential home buying experience.

“We can build the house of your dreams and have it look like a shipping design or cover it with bricks or siding to make it look like the next door neighbor’s house,” says SG Blocks CEO Paul Galvin.

Part of the beauty of using shipping containers for residential homes, Galvin tells Mann Report Residential, is their versatility. The exterior can be designed to look indistinguishable from any other home, while providing superior protection. As one can imagine, shipping containers typically spend days at sea, enduring tropic storms and roaring waves with ease.

“When we weld three of them together and anchor them to a foundation, that’s a house that’s going to survive a hurricane,” Galvin says. “That house is going to be made of steel that was made to go through hurricanes at sea.” So for those living in high-impact areas for natural disasters, a shipping container home is of even more value.

Similarly, people who opt for shipping container homes do not have to sacrifice essential home needs in any way. “We achieve the same R-ratings with insulation,” Galvin promises. “Materials on the inside are largely the same but are being applied with less waste and less mistakes.”

While offering a home option that’s supremely constructed and environmentally conscious is a major goal of SG Blocks, their most important mission is reducing the economic barriers for first time home ownership.

“Home buyers are forced to buy housing that’s bigger than needed in anticipation of having a growing family,” notes Galvin. “Our designs have several different methods to add additional space for extra rooms.” Galvin explains that a huge bonus of shipping containers is their ability to be stacked on top or placed next to one another, effortlessly adding more room as a family grows.

SG Blocks promises that all of this can be done without breaking the bank of homeowners. “We want to right size your home and right size your expenses,” Galvin says. To do this, the company offers 50-year mortgage plans on their structures, a generous 20 plus years compared to the typical 15-30 year home plans most owners are faced with. “We believe we can create an environment where people can have a house payment that’s similar to a car payment. So they don’t have to juggle an enormous housing expense.”

SG Blocks is throwing a wrench in the way we think about what it means to own a home, and this comes with challenges and a bit of resistance from more traditional folks. “Like with any new technology, people need to be educated and re-educated, usually about design and permitting,” Galvin says. But of course, any new technology that’s shaking up the way things have always been done is sure to be met with skepticism at first. And with all SG Blocks has to offer potential home owners, this resistance is sure to dissipate as more come to see the indisputable benefits of a material as simple as a shipping container.

Galvin has taken part in dozens of projects, each bringing something unique to his experience as CEO. However, he says he’s most excited about one project the company is currently at work on. “We are in the design phase of housing single family units in Texas for veterans who are transitioning from homelessness. That’s happening in real time, and when it comes to people that are often excluded from having decent housing, veterans are on the top of that list,” Galvin concludes.

“To be able to help them get up on their feet, I mean, what could be more joyful than that?”





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