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

Up to 600 more units planned for Vancouver with help of $66 million from the provincial government

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.

READ MORE: Affordability, mental illness barriers for homeless: report

READ MORE: Tent cities show urgency for affordable housing needed yesterday: advocates

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.

“Once constructed, … you’d be unable to tell that it was anything different than a regular apartment building or hotel complex.”

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Victoria couple hope unmanned boat drone becomes first to cross Atlantic

Colin and Julie Angus, UVic scientists to have drone collect environmental data en route

Sooke councillor questions CRD governance model

‘We need to revamp the overall model,’ says Kevin Pearson

Saanich crash victim leaves behind pregnant wife and young son

The death of a Saanich man has left behind a grieving widow,… Continue reading

Chef struck by car on Gorge Road dies in hospital

Khushal Singh Rana leaves behind a wife, four-year-old son and unborn twins

Sandown reclamation plan will cost North Saanich $569,000

District approves paying for its impact on water flows to and from the former horse racing track

Big Brother runner-up, Karen Singbeil, buys longest-running business in Oak Bay.

Willows Park Grocery, operating since 1912, has been bought by Karen Singbeil, of Big Brother fame.

B.C. casino accused of illegal activity follows rules: operator

B.C. had launched review after concerns about money laundering at River Rock casino in Richmond

Opponents of LGBTQ program to file human rights complaint against Surrey School District

District denied Parents United Canada right to rent Bell Performing Arts Centre for rally next month

Red hot Vikes women to host playoff opener

UVic Vikes This Week: basketball season kicks off at home

Ex-employee describes alleged sexual assault by B.C. city councillor

Complainant was a teen during the alleged 1992 incident

Amazon gets 238 proposals for 2nd headquarters

Submissions were due last week. Online retailer has said tax breaks and grants would be factors

Sean O’Loughlin named Victoria Symphony’s Principal Pops conductor

American composer has built a career working with some of music’s biggest names

Highway, housing and amalgamation will be on Saanich’s council agenda Monday

A busy agenda awaits Saanich councillors meet Monday. Perhaps the most prolific… Continue reading

Maintenance taking place on Esquimalt Lagoon Bridge this week

Drivers should expect delays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Most Read