LYNDEN, Wash. — A company headquartered in Dubai, UAE, is starting to provide farmworker housing on the U.S. West Coast using shipping containers.
Steel containers, 40-by-8-by-9.6-feet, are outfitted in high-tech fashion for quality comfort, have minimal environmental impact, are portable and last longer than manufactured housing, said Shaun Shulba, co-owner of Monitac Remotely Possible.
A grower using H-2A-visa foreign guestworkers in Washington, Oregon and California contacted Monitac to help it with housing and septic issues last July and that resulted in Monitac opening a manufacturing facility in Vancouver, B.C., and an office in Lynden, Wash., last fall, Shulba said. The grower will be identified this summer, he said.
The company also converts and builds new, customized containers for living and office space in Dubai and China. The four-year-old company has built up to 1,000-bed camps, mostly for mining companies and defense contractors, in UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar and eastern Africa, Shulba said.
Monitac is providing relief housing on the South Pacific country of Fiji where more than 40 people died in a Feb. 20 cyclone.
Originally from the Seattle area, Shulba lived in Dubai for 13 years and was in the defense industry. He and Richard Scott Smith, from the United Kingdom, started Monitac to meet what they saw as a deficit in quality, ecologically-friendly, camp-style housing in the Middle East and other parts of the world.
Many temporary camps are built with wood that decays while steel containers last longer and are easier to make energy efficient because they are sealed, Shulba said.
High-efficiency lighting, heating and air conditioning is solar powered and computer controlled and considered green for using less energy.
Containers are modified into six- to eight-bed bunkhouses with washrooms or can be living and office space. They can be lifted by air or forklift and stacked three high where space is tight. Delivered, ready-to-go units may be leased but sell for $26,000 to $35,000, depending on the interior configuration. That’s more than the cost of wood-framed structures but they last longer, Shulba said.
Monitac also provides energy efficient 16-bed, wood-framed, manufactured home bunkhouses and makes recreation rooms and swimming pools.
Monitac has septic and greywater treatment systems able to handle up to 150,000 gallons per day. Sludge is shipped away and Class A effluent can be discharged on fields and landscaping.
Washington state law prevents a private company from owning a septic water treatment plant if they have tenants, Shulba said. Monitac is seeking an Attorney General’s opinion that employees are not tenants and if that doesn’t work will seek a legislative solution, he said.
Monitac is talking with WAFLA, formerly the Washington Farm Labor Association, about providing housing for farmworkers and foresees a strong future in farmworker, firefighter and military applications in the U.S. and Canada, Shulba said. It is working on an affordable housing project in Vancouver, B.C.
“Competition for workers is increasing and providing quality of life for workers is a way to ensure you will get quality labor in quantities you require whether H-2A or domestic,” he said.