modular tiny house for the homeless

US modular builder addresses homelessness

Connect Homes, a US modular builder started making modular tiny houses, but now they’ve found a new home for those in need.

What was clearly apparent during Australia’s Covid 19 response were the benefits of providing accommodation for the homeless not only aided the fight against Covid 19 but provided an opportunity for individuals to gain a foothold back in society. The benefits of providing housing (physically and psychologically) during this period are said to have cost less than leaving them unattended on the street. 

Inside a factory in San Bernardino, California, workers are putting together small, modular homeless shelters that will soon be placed on trucks and shipped to Silicon Valley. Each tiny building, with four units inside, is built in roughly a day. And while a single unit of permanent supportive housing can cost US$500,000, a bedroom like this costs US$20,000.

“When the pandemic hit, we looked around and saw that not only has California had this very long-standing homelessness issue, but that maybe this was the right time to provide a new type of solution,” says Gordon Stott modular builder, Co-founder of Connect Homes, the company that designs and manufactures the shelters. “Ultimately, all of us need good, private, isolated space to call our own.”

The company, founded in 2013, had already been making modular, sustainable private homes—and like others building factory-built housing, knew it was a way to make construction more affordable. It realised that the same approach could be used to make shelters for people experiencing homelessness. “Because we’ve streamlined our building processes on an assembly line, we’re able to keep costs low, but more importantly, keep costs predictable,” says Steve Sudeth modular builder, a vice president at the company. “One of the hard things with traditional site construction is that there’s a continuous parade of change orders and unforeseen issues onsite.”

The company is also able to get economies of scale by using the same materials for the shelters as it uses for other housing. And because constructing a large, traditional apartment building can take years and requires a long permitting process, it also saves money by saving time. As the company has met with homelessness organisations, it says that there has been a strong response. “People with decades of experience in the space say ‘this is really kind of what we’ve been waiting for,’” says Stott. “There has to be a new way. We can’t essentially be paying US$600,000 to house each individual homeless person, not only because of the resource outlay, but also because of the timeline involved in sheltering people.”

The first homelessness organisation to use the design, a Bay Area nonprofit called LifeMoves, partnered with the City of Mountain View to get a grant from Project Homekey, a state program that is helping house Californians during the pandemic, primarily in hotels and motels. Connect Homes is providing 88 bedrooms for the semi-permanent installation, which will also have support staff onsite and include some modular units from other developers.

The design doesn’t eliminate the need for more complex, permanent supportive housing. But it can help fill a gap. “There’s absolutely a place for permanent supportive housing,” says Leung. “Some people really need to be in that kind of structure permanently. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s important. But in the meantime, with the hundreds of thousands of people who are without shelter, we can do better than tents on the side of the road as a society.”

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