Close to Home: What Santa Rosa needs most right now: modular housing

High quality factory-built housing has been popular in Japan since the 1960s and has been widely used to expedite housing construction in Europe for over a decade. Unfortunately, too many of us here think of a run-down trailer park when someone mentions modular housing.

In the light of our ongoing housing shortage, worsened by the wildfires, new approaches such as assembly line construction are needed to speed the delivery of enough places for people to live here.

Factories can complete four to eight living units per day, whereas the on-site construction of a home takes close to a year.

Many fire victims now in hotels or Federam Emergency Management Agency trailers must find affordable housing elsewhere by April of 2019 - likely an impossible task for most. Factory-built living units may be the key to make timely housing available for these people.

Many fire victims have been taken in by family or friends. But life in a crowded home can be wearing. An extra factory-built room or granny unit to accommodate them could save relationships.

Also, we need to bring back the important members of our workforce who are now commuting from distant places. And how will we accommodate the construction workers needed to rebuild? More housing and shared housing are what thousands of people need.

Santa Rosa's commendable goal is to enable speedy replacement of the 3,000 homes in the city that burned,and construction of more dwellings to restore the housing market. But with fewer than 100 building permits issued since the fires, little rebuilding is likely to finish by April 2019. Many more housing options are needed right away.

Factory-built housing methods include:

Modular construction with wood framing. A housing unit can consist of a single module or several modules up to 12 feet wide. Sometimes they are on a chassis with wheels. Units not on a chassis can easily be stacked to make apartments up to five stories high.

Steel cargo container housing, converted or built new. These can consist of one or more 8-foot wide modules. Modules can be connected or stacked up to five stories high. They can be used in temporary structures, disassembled and relocated. They have a useful life of up to 50 years.

A module containing the kitchen, bath and associated elements of a living unit. The remainder of the unit is completed by workers on site, sometimes using pre-fabricated panels.

Factory-built housing enterprises in our region include Clayton Homes, Global Portable Buildings and hybridCore in Santa Rosa, Stillwater Homes in Napa, Factory_OS in Vallejo and TAYNER in Sacramento.

Standards for the factory-built elements of a building are set by the state, and inspection occurs at factories, relieving local government of many tasks. The question is whether local permitting for on-site services can match the pace of modular projects. Or will the production of needed housing be delayed by costly and lengthy processes?

At the recent Home & Garden Show, a popular 680-square-foot factory-built home was on display. Visitors could see that comfortable, well-designed, reasonably priced places to live can be mass-produced here in the United States.

If you or a friend has a housing need that can be met by factory-built modules, please tell your story to members of the Santa Rosa City Council. Do it now because a public hearing on housing is scheduled for this coming Tuesday. Better yet, come to the hearing because your story needs to be heard.

Amy Appleton is the founder of Share Sonoma County, which works to match people at risk of becoming homeless with elderly homeowners who need either extra money or help at home. Steve Birdlebough is an advocate for the Sonoma County Transportation and Land-Use Coalition, which supports compact mixed-use developments within walking distance of SMART stations.

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