Here's a plan that doesn't cost $700 billion

PFNC doesn't intend just to build shelter. It wants to build communities, and McCarthy said the group expects to have the first pilot community on the ground late next year.

"That was our goal, more than just four walls and a roof but to kind of raise the standard of living in Juarez and other places," Nava said.

The shipping containers, which can be hauled by truck, rail or ship, are designed to stack. PFNC envisions a cluster arrangement, eight side by side and four high, with apartment-type balconies and staircases in the corners.

Clusters could be arranged into squares, creating "a safe little plaza in the middle where we hope to build a soccer field or a playground, some safe area for families to be," Nava said.

PFNC wants to set up programs with maquiladoras to offer housing as an employee benefit, helping cut the high rate of worker turnover, now between 7 percent and 10 percent a month, McCarthy said. The company is working with a Mexican law firm that has handled work-to-own housing programs.

"This is not a rental-type situation or free housing while you work here," McCarthy said. "Rather, the employer takes on some of the burden in setting up the financing program to transfer ownership to the employee."

That's important because PFNC needs large orders to keep costs down so low-wage workers can afford the home. The incentive for employers: Studies show housing for employees dramatically increases retention, and having more workers in a given area will reduce the number of buses maquiladoras run to take people to and from their jobs. |CNN|

Gotta say, I can't quite decide whether or not to be horrified by this story. I mean, there's obviously something sketchy about snapping your finger and saying, "I've got an idea, let's house the Mexicans in shipping containers!" On the other hand, the present living conditions of those workers are abominable.

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