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

News Views: Whistle-stop

For anyone who doesn’t already know, there was a big fire at… Continue reading

Mobile complaint clinic coming to Langley Feb. 9

The B.C. Ombudsperson is touring cities, taking complaints against the provincial government

Counter-petition for Maple Ridge rec projects ‘like something out of Russia’

Resident says it’s too tough to vote no to a project

Letter: time for a change #MeToo

I was in my mid-teens when I was grabbed from behind by a stranger.

TransLink reveals universal fare gates for transit users with disabilities

Gates are opened and closed automatically using a radio-frequency identification card

Tsunami warnings 101: Canada

Here are some things to know about tsunami alerts in Canada and how they work

10 Safeways in Lower Mainland to close, union says

Locations in Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey, Coquitlam, Richmond and Mission slated to shut

Vancouver Islanders ponder need for tsunami siren song

Alarm sounds in Port Alberni but not at the DND base in Esquimalt

Five charged in bid to shut pop-up pot market in Vancouver’s Robson Square

Marijuana flower, edibles, money and some weapons were seized as part of weekend raid

Babcock, Goyette and Smyth honoured at Order of Hockey in Canada

Mike Babcock, from Saskatoon, guided the Detroit Red Wings to a Stanley Cup in 2008

Bell Canada alerts customers who may be affected by latest data breach

Federal Office of the Privacy Commissioner said it had been notified

‘The tsunami alarm failed my household’: North Coast residents concerned over sirens, alerts

People living in northern communities share how they learned about Tuesday’s tsunami warning

Snowboarder dies at Vancouver Island ski resort

Death at Mount Washington Alpine Resort

Most Read