Independent schemes in the New York, USA and Brighton, UK are putting the humble shipping container to work as an effective source of low-cost housing to combat the problem of homelessness. The two schemes are poles apart in scope, and designed to address vastly differing causes of homelessness, however.

Though New York's homelessness problem has been made all the more acute by the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, The New York Observer reports that Mayor Bloomberg's administration has been developing a disaster-response housing program for five years.

The specifics of the scheme are yet to be finalized, though one idea is to use 40-foot (12-meter) containers as individual apartments, with a window and door added at each end. Arranged en masse, it's hoped that containers could house tens or hundreds of thousands of people, though larger apartments made from modified containers would be needed to house families.

"Just because it’s prefab doesn’t mean it has to be an eyesore," David Burney, commissioner of the New York's Department of Design and Construction told the Observer, pointing out that the apartments would be larger than the typical Manhattan studio apartment.

The next step is to construct a 16-apartment test case near the Brooklyn Bridge near the headquarters of the Office of Emergency Management, who are cooperating with the program.

Unfortunately the program has not come in time to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which is thought to have made 20,000 New Yorkers homeless in the long term. However, also talking to the Observer, CUNY architecture professor described New York as being "ahead of the curve" in its plans for long-term for emergency-response housing.

Across the Atlantic, meanwhile, at the English seaside town of Brighton, a local housing trust has submitted a planning application for a rather more modest proposal. The Brighton Housing Trust is hoping that its scheme to put 36 modified containers to use as studio flats.

According to the Press Association, the plan is a response to a growing homelessness problem in the town, which reportedly faces a housing shortage.

Though much smaller in scope, the Brighton scheme is also more advanced. In fact, the containers appear to have already been converted into studio apartments complete with bathrooms and kitchens, subdivided with plasterboard walls.

The modifications as part of a similar problem envisaged for Amsterdam that subsequently hit funding difficulties. The new plan would see those containers sent off to Brighton where they would be installed with allotment gardens on top.

The Trust is to submit a planning application to the city council.

Sources: The New York Observer, Press Association