San Francisco to build modular housing for homeless

The City of San Francisco is planning to construct 250 modular housing units that would serve as dwellings for the homeless. Mayor Ed Lee will put forth a request for proposals to build these modular homes on a plot of land located at Seventh and Mission streets. The land is currently owned by the federal government, however, it has agreed to sell the land to San Francisco for the symbolic fee of $1, the caveat being that the project must be built and completed within three years of the property transfer.

The large size and flatness of the property make it ideal for modular housing, units which are constructed off-site in factories before being transported to a housing site. The strategy to use modular housing would save time and money. The city estimates that using modular units would reduce costs by 20 percent and speed up production by up to 40 percent.

San Francisco has long been unable to move forward with projects involving modular housing because of opposition from building trade unions. The city is considering two other modular projects, 120 affordable housing units in Mission Bay and 131 units on Treasure Island as housing for formerly homeless veterans.

Building unions have typically been averse to off-site building because it means fewer jobs for laborers at the job site. Modular factories use union carpenters, but many of the other trade union workers, such as electricians and plumbers, are not offered employment.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development held meetings with building trades representatives to convey to them the importance and urgency of getting housing built quickly for the homeless.

Afterwards, a San Francisco Building Trades Council spokesperson said that his organization will not stand in the way of this project because of the federal deadline and the urgency to curb homelessness in the city. The Council has, however, started talks with Board of Supervisors members about the possibility of new regulatory building codes for the construction of modular housing units.

The plan to proceed with modular housing marks a victory for the city and Mayor Lee, who has long been a proponent of using modular technology and has mentioned wanting to build a modular factory in San Francisco. These units will help with the city's new plan to reduce homelessness by 50 percent by 2020.


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