At first glance, the latest Downtown Eastside apartment development looks like many of the sleek buildings that have sparked cries against gentrification in the neighbourhood.

Look closer, and the brightly coloured, corrugated metal walls at Alexander Street and Jackson Avenue reveal one of the most creative projects in Vancouver’s never-ending quest for affordable housing.

The 12-unit complex, built by the Atira Women’s Resource Society, is the first in Canada to be made from 12 recycled shipping containers sourced from the port just across the railroad tracks.

Atira unveiled the 290 square foot apartments built for $82,500 apiece on Thursday. Each has its own kitchen, bathroom and laundry, and was created to provide affordable housing for women older than 50 in the low-income neighbourhood.

It’s “thrilling” to see the final product after six months of delays due to the complexities of using an unprecedented material, Atira CEO Janice Abbott said in one of the bright units with floor-to-ceiling windows.

The units are “1,000 times better” than Abbott imagined, which helps quell the controversial optics of putting women in shipping containers, she said. (And if you think the rooms sound too tiny, well, there are micro-condos in Surrey selling for more than $100,000.)

Inspired by BC Hydro’s model shipping container house at the 2010 Olympics (which it donated to the project), the units are all soundproofed and insulated to or beyond building codes. Atira bought eight shipping containers from the port and Frank Lo and MC Quarters donated the other two. The city donated about $90,000 to the cause.

Atira works with women who have been subject to violence.

Six of the units will be social housing ($375 per month) for women with roots in the community who are willing to enter a mentorship program with the young women living next door at Atira’s Imouto Housing.

The other six will rent at housing income limit rates, or about 30 per cent of a woman’s income. Atira is accepting applications for the units. A committee will select the new residents before a Sept. 1 move-in date.

Atira hopes to build a second recycled shipping container development with 42 units at Hastings and Hawkes, pending a rezoning.

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