Modular housing project closer to reality for LA’s homeless
Los Angeles Daily News
October 25, 2019
Giant Lego-like steel modules are forming new homes for those who have none.
Housing developments in Southern California are typically constructed one board at a time, but a designer and build team are creating a modular development for Los Angeles’ homeless that they say is cheaper and faster to build.
Dubbed Hope on Alvarado, the project 166 S. Alvarado St. in Los Angeles will be a sleek, five-story development made from pre-designed steel modular units that are being crane-lifted, stacked and connected, much like giant Legos.
Built atop a concrete podium, the units are eight feet wide by 45 feet long and equipped with customized interior fittings and finishes. They’re being pieced together to create studio and one-bedroom apartments ranging from 400-480 square feet.
Floor-to-ceiling windows and interior fixtures and finishes, including drywall and tile, are being completed off-site.
The development, privately funded and set to open in early 2020, was created through a partnership between HBG Construction Corp., KTGY Architecture + Planning and Aedis Real Estate Group. It’s the first in a series of Hope On developments aimed at alleviating L.A’s homeless crisis.
“The partners of the Hope On developments have devoted themselves to perfecting this modular solution because we believe it holds great promise for the housing crisis,” Aedis Real Estate Group President Scott Baldridge said. “This is not just a one-off project. It’s a series of places created with a highly replicable design that delivers housing at a speed and scale required by neighborhoods in need.”
More units needed
Projects like Hope on Alvarado are sorely needed, as recent estimates put L.A.’s homeless population at nearly 59,000.
Per-unit construction costs for Hope on Alvarado range from $400,000 to $425,000, according to Baldridge, adding that a significant portion of that takes in up-front research and development costs as well as the cost to include ground-floor facilities to house supportive services.
“On Alvarado, there is a good-sized office that caseworkers will have, two conference rooms and a big community room for some of the services they need,” he said.
Those costs are considerably lower than some of the apartments the city of Los Angeles is building using money from Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond designed to help build about 10,000 housing units for homeless Angelinos. USA Today reported recently that those apartments in Koreatown will have been completed at a cost of $690,692 for each unit. Two additional projects in the pre-approval stage are expected to exceed $700,000 per unit.
A faster timeline
Mark Oberholzer, an associate principal with KTGY, said modular developments have a significant speed-to-market advantage.
“A typical wood building of this size would take 20 to 24 months to build, but we’ll be finished with this in less than 12 months,” he said. “As for the exact cost, that’s still unknown because we’re improving things incrementally as we move from project to project. But it will be a lot less because we’re making the units faster and more efficiently.”
The partnership had initially considered using standard cargo containers but ultimately opted to go a different route, according to Oberholzer.
“The tolerances of shipping containers will vary because they’ve been banged around a lot,” he said. “There is also an issue of the unknown because most of them contain wooden sub-floors that may have been treated with pesticides. It’s hard to know for sure.”
The modules were sourced from China, and the building is being constructed around a central courtyard, providing privacy, safety and a sense of community.
“It hard to say where the lines of manufacturing and architecture start and stop,” Oberholzer said. “We have a very integrated theme.”
The partnership has a total of six projects in the pipeline, all aimed at addressing L.A.’s homeless crisis:
- Hope on Alvarado — 166 S. Alvarado St.
- Hope On Broadway — Corner of 52nd St. and Broadway
- Hope on Hyde Park — Corner of Hyde Park and Crenshaw boulevards
- Hope on Avalon — 12225 Avalon Blvd. in unincorporated L.A. County
- Lafayette Triangle Bridge Housing — Corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Lafayette
- Western Bridge Housing — 1819 S. Western Ave. in mid-city L.A.
Hope on Broadway and Hope on Hyde Park recently received funding via Measure HHH. Those projects are expected to break ground during the first quarter of 2020, and work is already underway on the two shelters.
The city of L.A. chose to help fund Hope on Broadway ($6.7 million HHH loan) and Hope on Hyde Park ($9.3 million HHH loan) as part of the Proposition HHH Permanent Supportive Housing Loan Program. They are among more than 30 other projects that collectively received $231 million in HHH funds to build 2,179 residential units.
Modular home construction, whether for the homeless or otherwise, is nothing new.
Sierra Madre-based Kubed Living is repurposing steel shipping containers into tiny homes that can address a variety of needs, including Southern California’s shortage of affordable living space, households that need more room and families that want to rent them out for extra income as ADUs, or accessory dwelling units.
The company offers a variety of units that are customized and designed to fit into someone’s backyard. They range from simple home offices to full-scale living units.
Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed 18 bills to tackle California’s housing affordability crisis including five that reduce barriers to build ADUs.