The "big box" comes home: Shipping container houses

With the U.S. housing market currently plummeting, it's easy to forget that there are places in this hemisphere where the housing choices aren't McMansion or fixer-upper, house or condo, or even owning versus renting. For the approximately one million workers in Mexico's maquiladora factories, housing is often composed of whatever pieces of scrap wood and metal they can cadge together, and the living choices are often reduced to shack, stall, or sleeping under the stars.

While the maquiladora population is poor by U.S. standards, they are gainfully employed at what is often a competitive wage in Mexico. Recognizing the difficulties of finding inexpensive, durable housing in these communities, Brian McCarthy and his partners formed PFNC Global Technologies.

The company, whose initials stand for "Por Fin, Nuestra Casa," or "Finally, a home of our own" hopes to transform abandoned shipping containers (a handy side effect of the U.S. trade deficit) into small, single-family houses for maquiladora workers. Having secured basic funding, PFNC has built a prototype and hopes to begin production in 2009, with an initial goal of 30,000 homes per year.