A Santa Monica nonprofit that builds affordable housing won $1 million in a countywide challenge to come up with housing solutions for those experiencing homelessness.

Community Corporation of Santa Monica is proposing using prefabricated housing units to construct permanent supportive housing, which would reduce costs by up to 25 percent and cut construction time in half. The prefab units designed by Plant Prefab can be built up to five stories and their exteriors can be tailored to mesh with surrounding buildings.

“It’s an adaptable kit of parts that can be scaled to any site,” said CCSM executive director Tara Barauskas.

The county’s Housing Innovation Challenge awarded Feb. 1 a total of $4.5 million in Measure H funding to five organizations, including CCSM, that submitted new and cost-effective ideas to build housing for the growing homeless population. County voters approved the Measure H sales tax in March 2017 to generate about $355 million annually for 10 years for homelessness services.

The winners, which include a company that builds housing using shipping containers and a startup that converts detached garages to small houses, have up to two years to complete their projects.

The five organizations will be developing their projects as the City of Los Angeles wrestles with the revelation that the 10,000 units for homeless and low-income individuals promised by its own housing initiative, Measure HHH, will cost substantially more than projected.

City officials originally said 10,000 units could be built at a cost of $140,000 per unit but it now costs $400,000 to $500,000 per unit, in large part because construction has become more expensive in a booming real estate market.

“The costs of building affordable housing are astronomical and it takes a long time to do,” Barauskas said.

Architect Angie Brooks of Brooks + Scarpa, who partnered with CCSM to create the proposal, said the prefab kit streamlines the zoning process in addition to making construction quicker and cheaper. The kit uses standard residential zoning standards so cities can approve the projects without a lengthy review process.

The proposal also shortens the process, Brooks said, by temporarily eliminating the need to wait for cities to connect a construction site with utilities. Rather than wait for water and electricity hookups, a building constructed with the kit could use a solar energy system for power and water.

CCSM’s building would not be the first prefab permanent supportive housing, Barauskas said. Each of the 102 units in Star Apartments, which opened in Skid Row in 2014, was constructed offsite before being attached to the building’s frame. The complex cost $40 million to make, double what was anticipated.

“That design was more elaborate, and this kit is more streamlined and efficient,” Barauskas said. “If it works well, it could be rolled out into a larger program.”

CCSM will construct a building in Santa Monica using the proposal and is finalizing a site, she said.

madeleine@smdp.com

 

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