Roughly Speaking Dan Rodricks: Commentary and conversation on life in Baltimore, Maryland and the USA

Rodricks: The plan to turn cargo containers into homes starts to take shape

We could all stand to hear about something good today, some little piece of good that somebody somewhere decided to create from scratch. There is so much sad and bad — the attempted pipe-bomb assassinations of political leaders, the mass murder of worshipers in a synagogue, a hate killing in a grocery store in Kentucky, widespread despondency over all this, in a nation without a consoler-in-chief — that I had to look around for a reminder.

I think we all need a reminder that the country has not become a steamy swamp of cynicism and hate; that the good among us still outnumber the bad. After the massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue, I saw people declare on Twitter that they “no longer recognized” their country, with all the mass killings, with the rise in hate crimes, the bitter and stressful politics, and a president who proudly calls himself a nationalist.

In recent years, there have been so many vigils and funerals, the result of so much gun violence in a country we like to think of as exceptional. I don’t care how the stock market is doing, or how low the unemployment rate, America is not great. It is ailing. It is hurting. It is suffering in the soul.

So we need reminders — that, no matter how bad it gets, no matter how dark it looks, there is a way out of this. Election Day offers an opportunity to change course politically. But I’m not talking about that.

I’m talking about how each of us chooses to build a better city, county, state and country. So I’ll do today what I have been meaning to do for a few months: give an update of Pamela and Christian Wilson’s mitzvah, their plan to provide housing for people who need it. A lot of readers have asked about the Wilsons’ project since I first reported on it in January.

This Baltimore couple derives profound joy from devising ways to serve others. They contacted me last year not to draw attention to themselves but to the causes they embraced — first, backpacks of weekend food for dozens of homeless Baltimore schoolchildren and their families, and then ... houses made from cargo containers.

The Wilsons used to work in the maritime insurance trade; they know from cargo containers. They know that a lot of them are never used, stacked in terminals in Baltimore and other ports. Having created the program to help feed homeless families, the Wilsons wanted to do more; they wanted to find a way to create affordable housing in a city that badly needs it.

So they’ve been working on turning containers into homes for the last year. They’ve been working with city planners and community leaders, and so far have looked at sites in Harlem Park and Reservoir Hill, on the west side, and Oliver, on the east. Christian Wilson says city officials have been receptive and helpful.

“We have been having meetings with the Oliver Community Association and have received their blessings for a portion of this project,” he says. “We are on course to purchase land from the city under the ‘Vacants to Value’ program. We hope to produce one double unit for a family of more than three people and three smaller units for families of three, and we’ll offer these units for sale with the assistance of the Mayor's Office of Human Services.

“We hope to have our first five units in place in Oliver around March. The smaller units will be offered for $25,000 and the larger units will be offered for under $50,000. We have been working to get the necessary funding in place and have a builder who is working with us. The city is really trying to assist us in getting this project off the ground.”

The Wilsons received some financial support from the Baltimore City Youth Fund. They hope to eventually house 350 people in their container homes. And this year, Christopher Wilson adds, the weekend backpack program should produce close to 104,000 meals for families in the toughest of circumstances.

I’d call it “amazing,” except the novelist Stephen King just tweeted that the word needs a long vacation. So be it. I thought you’d like to know about this. I hope it makes you feel a little better.

drodricks@baltsun.com

twitter.com/DanRodricks

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