Post-zoning in Containertopia: SF factory of container homes

When we first visited Luke Iseman and Heather Stewart on a formerly abandoned lot in West Oakland (CA), they were renting out space to friends to build tiny homes from shipping containers. The idea was to create affordable, off-grid, housing in the least affordable market in the country (the San Francisco Bay Area) by reusing cargo containers readily available from the Port of Oakland next door.

Original Containertopia story 2014

A few months later, the city was ready to fine them $1100 per day for living on a site zoned for parking so they picked up the containers and moved them to a recently-purchased site nearby. They were at the new location for only a few months when a neighbor complained and, again facing fines, they rented a building zoned for 24-hour-work spaces and set up camp.

Today they are renting space within their 2100-square-foot warehouse to about 14 tiny-home dwellers who pay $600 per month to park their container, truck or house on wheels. Technically they are only allowed to work here, but for Iseman that definition is open-ended. “It’s a 24/7 art space and I’m just so busy with other stuff I don’t really know…. someone falls asleep, their mom can check on them, that’s not my job. I mean we don’t have any facilities that the big software companies lack at their offices.”

Inside his new “Containertopia” space (our term from 2015, not his), building is easy with shared tools, like a laser cutter, which makes cutting a window a 10 minute job. With steel prices down, containers are selling at about $2000 apiece: a bargain template for a home, according to Iseman. “It’s crazy they’re great building block LEGOS like super over-built, you can make 50 different mistakes and it’s still way more structurally sound than the stick frame houses that people painfully construct.

Original story:

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  1. dave musser
    September 20, 2016

    18 million foreclosed homes sitting empty in America,,and Americans are elated to be able to live in a shipping container

  2. Jordan Vachal
    September 23, 2016

    What will happen when somebody trips over all that clutter and breaks their ankle? Or that non-permitted electrical work starts a fire and burns up peoples stuff? Will this guy pay for damages? Will his insurance?…definitely not. I'm all about innovation and creative living/working, but these development codes are not implemented to only grab your money. They help create accountability and help ensure there is a liable party when shit happens.

  3. David S
    October 29, 2016

    13:48 It would be great to hear how that law turns out. Please keep us posted about that.

  4. Jimmy Nomad
    November 2, 2016

    Jeez.. These people spend soooooo much money to "not pay much money"..

  5. Renwoxing13 Hacked By Scarce
    November 13, 2016

    They only have 20 ft containers it looks like? Wow man they should have splurged on the 40ft containers, and maybe went wild and attached 2! I understand they are young, and learning as they go though. So great work guys gl!

  6. Vincent Alto
    November 26, 2016

    I wish I had a dollar, every time I heard the word "like". I could like retire early.

  7. Patricia_CSR
    December 3, 2016

    is this the warehouse that went up in flames last night? just wondering. the news said people were living there.

  8. Janean Langlois
    December 5, 2016

    After the fire in Oakland Live-Work space, killing 30+ people, I think the city will be taking a closer look at spaces like this. And all codes are not stupid, fire safety and building standards are needed.and with Oakland being almost bankrupt, permit costs are revenue.

  9. AnT
    February 24, 2017

    I started this series cause i liked the way tiny houses looked, but I stayed for the coding law politics lol

  10. reddog694uk
    February 28, 2017

    This is the future of social affordable housing all over the world. These modular containers are fully customisable living and work spaces which can be added to over time and great for single people, offering a viable alternative to renting living space in the big cities. Great vid guys !

  11. T.L. Byron
    March 7, 2017

    Glad they made a new off grid site after the eviction..

  12. Digger T Mesch
    April 14, 2017

    Ur awesome brother – keep rockin the boat

  13. Stefan Stefanović
    April 21, 2017

    I enjoy watching your videos, they are great. This is my first comment on your channel, I was motivated by the city issued fine that is mentioned.
    Government (city) does not dare tax the rich, and constraints us with all this laws to the point it becomes the challenge just to survive. City gets its tax money mostly from property taxes, but it is discriminating against the poor by overlooking property of the rich held mostly in bonds, stocks and hedge-founds. Just as an example people like Bill Gates can place all the money they have in a hedge-found. Assuming he (Bill) gets 5% interest he can get around 80 million dollars every week, yes you read it correctly, I repeat every week just because he is wealthy and he doesn't have to do anything for it. And 5% return is standard for a hedge-found.

    Please note that I do NOT imply with this comment that, people who have different live style are poor.

    If this information is interesting to you please look at You-Tube channel Democracy At Work ( Personally I watch it and advocate for alternative economic system that has a democratic process in the work place (members instead of employees-employers, serfs-lords, slaves-masters !)

    [Edit: Added explanatory sentence.]

  14. Misguided MGTOW
    May 2, 2017


  15. Christian Pien
    May 9, 2017

    Need an update on this project, please.

  16. Alyissa Jay NORCAL
    May 12, 2017

    Did we try to petition for tiny home parks yet? Redwood City just lost 60 residents in Dock Harbor too.

  17. Brent Simpson
    May 23, 2017

    Commie cali strikes again……

  18. Cosmo Kwong
    May 31, 2017

    Great episode! I too have been realizing such ridiculous laws, permits, zoning issues, etc. created by land developers to have the city extort money from your average property owner. I live in the Bay area, but feel like moving because of these exact reason s.

  19. Raul O
    June 9, 2017

    Luke is sexy as hell!

  20. Lisa Kilmer
    June 15, 2017

    Kristen Dirksen – kudos to you for filming this couple and letting them present all their good – and bad – ideas! This young man, while enthusiastic, also is somewhat of a fool because he obviously acts without much education/preparation. The container homes he thinks are so acceptable are poorly designed. You've got plenty of nice container structures on your channel – his are not nice. Here's an example of not knowing what he's doing: He's providing plumbing for his live/work warehouse with garden hosing! Every square meter of his parking lot and warehouse is disastrously cluttered and unsightly. He's got a lot of good points about crazy zoning laws but his actual construction/electrical/plumbing skills are scarily deficient.

  21. websuspect
    June 18, 2017

    He did a really good job he just needs to do a tiny bit more work on planning and submit planing plans to the district. So that things arent set up haphazzardly. This could be done at montly meetings.

  22. Orlando Paço
    June 22, 2017

    Kudos to you Luke! Finguering the "man" in a big way!

  23. Tony Sinc
    June 30, 2017

    for all this hassle, and all of these fees, why not just build a container cafe? and rent spaces for other food trucks, and with the profit you can fund your project

  24. Styx62 Ga
    July 4, 2017

    And yet all the liberals in Commiefornia keep voting the same criminals back into office

  25. Styx62 Ga
    July 4, 2017

    I hope all this works out you all are striving for something that is starting to have an awakening but old politicians across the country need a wake up call and to be fair it's not just the left coast it is red states as well a revolution is needed I guess?

  26. Khamomil
    August 28, 2017

    This young man is so intelligent and courageous! I hope he succeeds in getting a change in zoning law. It's a huge problem worldwide. The laws are suited to a 1960s state of affairs. Now with huge retal fees and so many homeless a drastic change is in order.

  27. Rick J.
    October 6, 2017


  28. Bobbito Chicon
    October 22, 2017

    Im curious about how things are going for them eight now.

  29. Muhammad Muhammad
    November 4, 2017

    good luck

  30. xxmightyonexx
    November 12, 2017

    I shut down at the blatant ageism and sexist comments, that were also openly disrespectful toward those already living there (meaning, your neighbors). You need to show respect to get respect and one day you'll be old too pal.

  31. AllStar4261
    November 16, 2017

    The city simply does'nt want you shitting an pissing in composte toilets in the city…periodhold a hippie mini Woodstock…raise the money pay the city for runnin water/ septic system you smug prick…..either that or move to the woods..period..

  32. David Bacon
    November 17, 2017

    God bless you for TRYING! it's gonna rain, tonight, and i just sleep under a black tarp next to my bicycle and cart! (not happy!) 🙂

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