B.C. ex­per­i­ments with ‘Lego block’ hous­ing in fight against home­less­ness

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - NATIONAL NEWS - GEORDON OMAND

VAN­COU­VER — Stack them up. Take them down. Move them around. Repeat.

What could eas­ily pass as a de­scrip­tion of the chil­dren’s toy Lego could also be a por­trait of Bri­tish Columbia’s lat­est tool in the fight against home­less­ness.

The prov­ince is turn­ing to mod­u­lar hous­ing to help with a crit­i­cal lack of short-term ac­com­mo­da­tion. Tem­po­rary mod­u­lar hous­ing in­volves the con­struc­tion of small, self-con­tained liv­ing quar­ters, which can be shipped di­rectly from a fac­tory and quickly as­sem­bled.

Pro­po­nents ap­plaud the tech­nique not only for its cost sav­ings, but also be­cause it slashes de­liv­ery time from years to months.

“I liken it to be­ing six months from idea to oc­cu­pancy,” said Luke Har­ri­son, CEO of the Van­cou­ver Af­ford­able Hous­ing Agency.

Har­ri­son’s or­ga­ni­za­tion has as­sem­bled 40 units, each about 23 square me­tres, in Van­cou­ver as part of a pilot project.

Up to 600 more units are planned for the city with the help of $66 mil­lion from the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment. An­other 2,000 mod­u­lar units are planned across B.C. over two years.

Per­ma­nent hous­ing can take years to get ap­proved and built, but pre­fab­ri­cated mod­ules can quickly be moved to new lo­ca­tions and re­assem­bled in new con­fig­u­ra­tions de­pend­ing on lo­cal needs. As a re­sult, va­cant sites wait­ing to be de­vel­oped are sud­denly can­di­dates for tem­po­rary com­plexes that can house 50 or more peo­ple.

“It’s not a so­lu­tion for every­thing, but it’s a great tool that we have in our arse­nal now to deal with things like the home­less pop­u­la­tion that re­quires an ur­gent and crit­i­cal re­sponse that just doesn’t come as eas­ily through tra­di­tional forms of con­struc­tion and de­vel­op­ment,” Har­ri­son said.

A re­cent home­less­ness sur­vey of Metro Van­cou­ver com­mu­ni­ties be­tween 2011 and 2016 found the num­ber of peo­ple with­out shelter grew by 40 per cent, to 4,211 peo­ple. That’s four times faster than gen­eral pop­u­la­tion growth over that same pe­riod, the sur­vey said.

Ethel Whitty, Van­cou­ver’s di­rec­tor of home­less­ness ser­vices, said the ini­tia­tive marks a shift in the city’s ap­proach to help­ing the home­less that pro­motes find­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion as a pri­or­ity.

“Up un­til re­cent years, it was thought that you had to house peo­ple who were ready for hous­ing. They had to be dry and sober and, say, they had to have their goals or­ga­nized,” she said. “Ac­tu­ally, peo­ple who are housed are much more likely to be able to or­ga­nize their life plan.”

Where to place mod­u­lar com­plexes de­pends on a num­ber of fac­tors, in­clud­ing access to health care and tran­sit, zon­ing, en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors and com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion, she added.

Kathleen Llewellyn-Thomas, who over­sees com­mu­nity ser­vices for the city, said hous­ing is only one el­e­ment of a broader over­all pro­gram, which will in­clude sup­port work­ers and other re­sources for ten­ants.

Part of the in­spi­ra­tion for the project came from tem­po­rary camps and cater­ing fa­cil­i­ties used in the re­source in­dus­try to house work­ers in re­mote lo­ca­tions. Van­cou­ver’s pilot project used ex­per­tise from Hori­zon North, which op­er­ated in the in­dus­trial sec­tor for years be­fore ex­pand­ing to res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment.

Scott Mat­son, the com­pany’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, said the key to mod­u­lar hous­ing is the time­line.

“Imag­ine Lego blocks be­ing com­pleted in a con­trolled and closed en­vi­ron­ment, in a man­u­fac­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment rather than an out­door con­struc­tion en­vi­ron­ment, shipped to site and as­sem­bled on site,” Mat­son said.

The com­pany builds the mod­ules in Kam­loops, B.C., trans­ports them on site by truck and as­sem­bles them us­ing a crane. He es­ti­mated the typ­i­cal lifes­pan of a mod­ule to be as long as 25 years and said the aes­thetic of res­i­den­tial projects are “very, very dif­fer­ent” from work camps.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.