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Durango company brings creativity to accessory dwelling unit market

Cajas LLC uses shipping containers for housing
Kameryn Dean, owner of Cajas LLC, describes the process of building a residential home out of a shipping container on Thursday east of Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

A Durango-based company is trying to increase housing inventory through selling shipping container dwellings to use as accessory dwelling units.

Cajas LLC was started in January by longtime contractor Kameryn Dean, who was inspired to enter the ADU building market because of Durango’s demand for them.

He said homeowners enjoy having the accessory units because they can use them as storage space or even as a home gym. But more importantly, it’s a way for homeowners to create additional income by leasing out the units.

“Our ultimate goal is to create awareness around accessory dwelling use,” Dean said. “With existing building codes in La Plata County and surrounding counties, it’s a little bit easier to build secondary dwellings on existing properties as rental units.”

Each unit costs between $80,000 and $100,000 depending on the type of build out. The units are well-insulated, using polyurethane closed cell foam insulation. This is important because under harsh weather conditions the shipping container dwellings can become extremely hot or cold.

“That doubles as a vapor barrier because one of the big hurdles with shipping containers is temperature,” he said.

The units take about four months to build. Once finished, units are transported to the buyer’s property.

Dean said the advantage to buying one of the container dwellings is that many of the builds are predesigned, making for quick submission for an ADU permit with the county.

However, the company has not completed a build out for a property owner with intent of leasing a unit on their property, but have been in discussion with potential interested parties. So far, Cajas has sold five units and is looking to collaborate with the city of Durango because of its ADU incentive program.

Kameryn Dean, owner of Cajas LLC, and his father, Ken Dean, work on building a home out of a shipping container on Thursday east of Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

In exchange for a two-year commitment to rent an ADU to a local worker who will live in it as their primary residence, the city will offer owners an $8,000 rebate.

Dean said with tribal land and national forests surrounding Southwest Colorado, there is limited space to build housing density.

“We’re trying to capitalize on the fact that we can create these small houses in people’s backyards who have the best space to use them,” he said. “Then the city can help to make sure that those are rented as affordable units through incentive programs.”

While offering these services may not change Durango’s housing situation right away, Dean feels like creating availability is a steppingstone in the right direction.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the owner occupied housing unit rate in Durango was at around 57% as of 2021. That is about 9% lower than the state average. In addition, Durango’s median gross rent sits at $1,325 per month.

However, Dean is also interested in helping other businesses in Durango. It is no secret that leasing commercial real estate in Durango isn’t cheap, which has been a driving factor in Durango’s growing food truck trend.

He said among the company’s other goals is to accommodate anyone who may not need the use of a traditional building. The recent passing of a city ordinance that allows long-term permits for food trucks may drive more new business owners toward that concept.

“With places like Lola’s and 11th Street, businesses could move toward something more permanent instead of the food trucks,” he said.

Among one of the projects in consideration for Cajas is a collaboration with District Three, a proposed LGBTQ+ establishment and workspace that is trying to find a location downtown.

He said one issues business owners have is that they often spend a lot of money to renovate a building they do not own. But basing a business out of shipping container unit allows for a business to design and create its own environment at a more reasonable price.

He compares the shipping containers to Legos where units can be stacked on top of each other or combined to create more space. He also says those interested in creating a bar-type atmosphere can have unit designs that use outdoor space as well as a smaller indoor area.


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