As published in the Bloomington Herald Times, July 8, 2022. Story by reporter Jackie Finch.

Owner of Habitat’s first container home says what they like best is ‘It will be mine’

Charlie Lynn’s arms are spread wide as if embracing the new Habitat home and life ahead. For the first time in Charlie Lynn’s 36 years, the world will feel more safe and secure.

“My new home means safety to me,” Charlie Lynn says. “I wasn’t born into a safe environment, and there’s been very little opportunity for me to find that.”

Identifying as queer, non-binary and autistic, Charlie Lynn chooses to use the gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun “they/them.” Along with being a first for Charlie Lynn, the container home is also a first for Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County.

With a total of 320 square feet, the shipping container is being transformed into a one-bedroom, one-bathroom home with a living room and combined kitchen/dining space. The home also has a covered outside deck.

“When I first walked in, it seemed cozy. Like I was swaddled by the walls,” Charlie Lynn says. “I’ve lived in smaller spaces, and I’ve lived in larger spaces. I prefer smaller spaces, because they are more manageable to clean and to navigate.”

Construction on the project began in spring 2020 and will be completed this August. The container home has already been moved to its permanent location on Bloomington’s west side.

“We believe there is great potential for repurposed containers to allow us to house more people in quality homes at a lower cost,” says Wendi Goodlett, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County.

Charlie Lynn was an ideal candidate for the container home, Wendi says, because Charlie Lynn will be the sole occupant. “Further, there are several components to the container home which are ideal for Charlie Lynn’s autism, such as insulation that naturally limits outside noise and hard surface floors.”

Having a quiet environment is going to be a godsend, Charlie Lynn says. “I know a lot of people complain about thin walls. For most people, it’s an annoyance. For an autistic person with sensory issues around noise level, it is physically painful and causes a huge amount of meltdowns for me.”

Years of dealing with housing problems

Born in Bloomington, Charlie Lynn says they have encountered years of housing problems which negatively affected their health and quality of life. “I’ve dealt with the usual that someone might expect for low-cost housing – mold, faulty appliances, thin walls and roommates.

Roommates tend to cause a lot of my problems.”

Among the list of roommate difficulties, Charlie Lynn says, “several have had substance abuse problems, stolen from me, bringing in unexpected guests who cause property damage and harass me. That’s not even getting into the roommates who were actively hostile to me because I was autistic.”

Wondering if home ownership would ever be within reach, Charlie Lynn saw their cousin apply and purchase her local Habitat home. “While she went through the process, I learned that she was learning things in her classes for Habitat which I’d never learned. And I saw how much having a stable home changed her life. I wanted that sort of change. Her experience convinced me it was a good idea to apply.”

In November 2019, Charlie Lynn was accepted by the Habitat program and was pleased to learn they would be the first container home owner. “I didn’t know I would be getting the container home until earlier this year. Serendipitously, I had done a lot of my own research into building tiny homes, such as container homes, before I applied to Habitat for Humanity.”

Watching construction has been ‘like magic’

Following the construction process has been a wonderful experience.

“Like magic,” Charlie Lynn says. “I’m so excited to have a yard with a garden. I have lots of plans for gardening. My front yard is south facing so I plan to plant vegetables and herbs there. I will use my porch to help trellis vegetables. I also plan to put a rose bush there.”

On the east side of the house, Charlie Lynn will plant blackberries, irises and other colorful flowers. “In the backyard, I want to grow shade-loving things. I’ll plant bleeding heart bushes and ramps – those wild alliums that taste like garlic.”

As for the interior of their home, Charlie Lynn has many ideas for that also. “I’d prefer to fill my space with things that have meaning to me. I have a calendar of my birth year from my great-grandma’s house, decorated with sequins and beads, that will definitely go up.” Bookshelves lined with books for the avid reader also will be included as will results of Charlie Lynn’s hobbies of sewing and craft making. “I’ve volunteered in the past with Krampus in making costumes and in making wood burning art to sell.”

The easy maintenance of their new home will give Charlie Lynn more time for their favorite hobbies. “Also, I expect I will have a lot more high-functioning days. Right now, environmental triggers cause a lot of low function days for me. I know that in a better environment and with less stressors, I’m going to have days where I can choose what I want to do, rather than barely doing what I need to do.”

Container home idea came from IU Kelley 

The container home idea was born in early 2019 when the Indiana University Kelley Institute for Social Impact held its first Kelley Impact Competition. “Students were challenged to provide an innovative idea to address affordable housing in Monroe County,” Wendi says. “Among the many noteworthy ideas, the winning solution was to convert shipping containers into tiny homes to lower the cost of construction and the homeowner’s mortgage.”

Shipping containers are built as reusable transport and storage units for moving products and raw materials around the world. “The main purpose of repurposing shipping containers for housing is the cost,” says Nathan Ferreira, Habitat director of land development and production.

“When shipping containers are abundant, they cost a fraction of what walls cost in conventional stick-framed homes,” Nathan says. “Because shipping container homes are fixed sizes, they also offer opportunity to build with a smaller footprint which increases housing density. This is particularly valuable when land is scarce or prohibitively expensive.” As a result, Wendi says, “Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County is currently in search of a location for a small shipping container village. We believe there is great potential for repurposed containers to allow us to house more people in quality homes at a lower cost.”

Founded in 1988, Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County is currently building its 220th home in Monroe County. “Over 150 of our tota homes have been built within the Bloomington city limits, but the others were built in Stinesville, Ellettsville or unincorporated Monroe County land,” says Lindsey Boswell, Habitat marketing and communications manager. “The location of where we built ultimately depends on the availability and affordability of the land acquired for the build.”

As a new Habitat homeowner, Charlie Lynn says “the program isn’t as simple as people without homes getting homes. We learn how to be successful home owners, and everything that entails.”

The program can be a lifesaver, Charlie Lynn concludes. “I didn’t ‘deserve’ the bad things that happened to me as a child. I also don’t think I ‘deserve’ a home any more than anyone else that needs housing. I did my part in not giving up hope and persisting. Like Wonder Woman said, ‘It’s not about deserve, it’s about love.’” If people read Charlie Lynn’s story, “and think I deserve a home, remember that there are many others just like me who need a house just as much as me,” Charlie Lynn concludes. “And consider doing your part in getting people into safe housing, like donating to Habitat for Humanity.”

For more information: Contact Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County at monroecountyhabitat. org.