Housing supply has tightened throughout BC over the last several years because of employment growth, population movements and general demographic trends. This is good news for the overall economy but has also meant that renters have been increasingly pushed out of the lower end of the market as demand for affordable housing has grown. Some of those most vulnerable have found themselves unable to afford rising rental rates and have ended up without a home. In some areas of the Province, homelessness has begun to reach critical proportions.
To help address this growing need for affordable housing at the lower end of the market, the Provincial Government, through BC Housing, has decided to institute a Rapid Response program to this growing crisis by turning to the Modular Building Industry to build up to 2,000 micro-suite apartments throughout the Province. Modular builders, with an industrialized, factory approach to building, are perfectly set up to quickly and economically build repetitive multi-unit apartment developments in a much shorter time than traditional on-site builders.
A Request for Proposals directed at modular building suppliers in the Province was issued by BC Housing in September, 2017. The requirements in the RFP included standardized designs, compliance with pre-set building guidelines, meeting Step 3 in the new BC Energy Step Code, and the demonstrated ability to efficiently design-build 40 to 52-Unit apartment buildings in the various regions and climatic conditions of the Province. The industry responded with enthusiasm and ten major modular building suppliers were short-listed for the program. Many local municipal planning departments have been very helpful, suppliers have bought into the program, and modular building factories have geared up.
The result, after only around 8 months from the date of the original RFP, is that literally hundreds of affordable rental apartments are in planning, engineering and construction in a number of communities around BC. Because of the inherent speed of modular construction, many of these units will be ready for occupancy in the next several months. Local residents at risk of being homeless will now have a home, a basic need of all of us to be able to be positive, contributing members of society.
Trades and suppliers are hiring to meet this new industry demand, and modular builders are rapidly taking on staff and expanding. The build-up in the modular building sector is a very welcome addition to the construction industry at a time of quickly escalating costs, a shortage of skilled workers and capacity limitations, and is also helping to provide wider options for architects, developers and governments alike.
I believe that the Province’s Rapid Response Housing program will be viewed as a very positive initiative. Many of those most at risk of homelessness will now have access to modest but well-built and energy-efficient homes quickly assembled for occupancy. Modular construction systems make it possible!
Tom Faliszewski BA, BArch, CPHD
Senior Manager, Innovative Solutions