Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Relocatable modular housing for the homeless: An idea whose time has come?

A presentation panel prepared for a display in Vancouver City Hall a number of years ago
I woke up this morning to hear Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang on CBC talking about the city's request for proposals to create relocatable housing projects for the homeless. While I know that sometimes you are supposed to glow on the inside, I could not help but think "Hey, they have finally followed up on my idea!" It's an idea that I developed as my architectural thesis at the University of Toronto in 1970 and subsequently pitched after the 2008 Vancouver Municipal Election. Here's a bit more on the origin of this idea as set out in a 2013 blogpost. I do hope that this time the idea may actually proceed.

A 2013 Christmas Present for Vancouver's Homeless
Today I received an email from rental housing activist Tom Durning describing an innovative solution to house some of Los Angeles' homeless.http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-skid-row-housing-20121216,0,1039440.story

It reminded me of a proposal I made to the Province and the City of Vancouver back in 2008 and 2009 following a study I undertook in conjunction with architects NSDA with funding from BC Housing. Our proposal was to create a stock of affordable modular units that could be set up for a period of time on a site, and subsequently relocated. Just like school portables are often used.

At the time, the proposal received a lot of media coverage but didn't go anywhere, in part I'm told, because neither Gordon Campbell nor Rich Coleman liked the idea of housing people in 'containers'.

The fact is, these weren't containers...they were purpose built prefabricated modular units that could be set up on a private property and relocated after say three years or more once the property was approved for redevelopment.

Others objected to the proposal because on a cost per square foot they claimed they were not much cheaper than permanent housing. Well, that might be true...except the units were planned to be much smaller and permanent housing solutions in Vancouver often cost significantly more than they should....in the order of $300,000 a unit. or up to $1000 a foot for projects like the Pennsylvania Hotel.

Relocatable modular units would cost less than one sixth of this amount, and take significantly...let me repeat significantly less time to construct.

Others pointed out that there's nothing more permanent than a temporary solution. I agree. But by placing these units on private property, they would ultimately be relocated...just like the community garden at Davie and Burrard. It won't be there five years from now!

Below is an abbreviated version of a presentation I made to the DTES community at the Carnegie Centre in which I suggested that we use the parking lots of the Drake Hotel for this type of housing.  Sadly, it did not proceed...meanwhile the facilities at the Drake have remained unused...and I don't believe we're much further ahead on a permanent redevelopment of that site.

So here's my proposed Christmas present to Vancouver's homeless. Let's try a demonstration project in 2013 to test out this idea. I am confident that while it is not THE answer to housing the homeless...it is another solution that could dramatically help many people by moving into something that's much better than a shelter, at a relatively modest cost
What will it look like?

Finally, here's a description of the proposal that was published on the ThinkCity website and a Vancouver Sun commentary by my colleague Bob Ransford whose judgement is regarded highly by many of us in the Vancouver housing and development community.



And a CTV story: http://bc.ctvnews.ca/architect-s-40-year-dream-to-house-homeless-1.377577

As we approach a new year, with a 2015 goal of ending street homelessness, I hope that the City and Province will take another look at this idea so that we might create a demonstration program by next Christmas Eve. What a wonderful Christmas present that might be for many Vancouver residents currently in shelters or on the street.  Merry Christmas


cadenjacoby said...

These are truly great home layouts. I really liked these affordable home layouts. I am sure this project will be very successful. I have invested in a beautiful home in Luxury Real Estate Dove mountain which I got at an affordable price.

Anonymous said...

Good Ideals, but I would like to see the contract for the project go to a BC company not one whose hq is in Alberta (HNL,ATCO,...)

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