Kyle Foch give older brother Dan a lift during a visit to Switzerland.
Kyle Foch gives his older brother, Dan, a lift during a visit to Switzerland.

For Dan and Kyle Foch, thinking outside the box means living inside one. The two brothers won York Region’s Make Rental Happen Challenge in June. They took home the top prize of $5,000 for their idea to help alleviate the affordable housing shortage by creating homes from shipping containers.

Dan, a fifth-year bachelor of commerce student specializing in real estate and housing, and Kyle, a first-year landscape architecture student, applied their classroom learning to a real-world problem, while learning from each other’s disciplines. Kyle designed the layout of the containers, while Dan focused on the economic and legal feasibility of alternative housing.

“We both thought that we were going to do well, but we were ecstatic when we found out that we actually won,” says Kyle. Winning the competition was also a surprise birthday present for the brothers. “When we handed in the final product, it was on my birthday, and when we found out, it was on my brother’s birthday,” adds Kyle. “It was a bigger surprise when we found out, and it was a good birthday gift for my brother.”

Dan often eyed a piece of vacant land near their York Region home as the perfect place for a container house. “It’s one of those things that keeps me up at night,” says Dan of his passion for real estate. He felt the land wasn’t being used to its fullest potential in an urban setting. “We should talk to the region about using that space and getting some sort of development in there and make it something beautiful.”

Their proposal also included subsidizing the cost of construction by using solar panels on the roofs of the shipping crates and dividing each container into living space and working space, which would cut down on commuting and the social stigma surrounding affordable housing.

“We always stigmatize social housing as a draw on society,” says Dan. “You get a social housing building in your area, and you think property values are going to go down. We never actually consider the value those people can contribute to society.”

He says he wanted residents to have pride of ownership in their home while breaking the cycle of poverty by having them work from home as entrepreneurs.

Container housing is not a new idea, and it’s not without some controversy. Guelph had its own container house until the city asked its resident to move last fall because he lacked a building permit.

However, the brothers say legal challenges can be alleviated by developing zoning designations and building codes to accommodate container houses. “There’s no real precedent set for the building code,” says Dan, adding that he will meet with York Region officials later this month to further discuss the issue.

“There’s a lot of ‘NIMBY-ism,’ which is ‘not in my backyard’ – that’s what we call it in the real estate world,” says Dan. He wants to transform attitudes to view social housing as a positive instead of a negative.

The containers come in two lengths (200 and 400 feet) and could be joined to form larger commercial or residential units. Up to 12 containers could be stacked on top of each other to make an apartment building.

“The fact that you’re saving so much money on the construction of it, that’s the big selling point,” says Dan, adding that those cost savings could be reinvested into creating luxury units for higher-income residents.

Recycling shipping containers would also appeal to eco-minded consumers. “There’s a surplus of these containers, and you have to put them to use somehow,” says Dan.

Would the Fochs live in a container house?

“I would absolutely,” says Dan, adding that he would like to buy a farm after he graduates so that he can further study container-house living.

“I think they’re very usable and quite nice to live in with what we designed,” adds Kyle.

To view the judges’ comments on their winning proposal, visit