Modular construction and affordable housing

By Dan Emerson, Finance & Commerce, January, 17, 2022

Can factory-built, modular construction provide an effective tool to help close Minnesota’s affordable housing gap?

The answer is “yes,” according to a number of stakeholders involved in designing, financing and building non-market rate housing in Minnesota.

The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority plans to tear down 16 outdated houses it owns and use modular construction to replace them with 84 units of four- and six-plexes at various sites. The $34 million project scheduled to begin next summer is believed be the first use of factory-built, modular housing for scattered site, affordable multifamily housing in the U.S., officials said.

The MPHA received eight proposals for the project, and chose a proposal from St. Paul-based Frerichs Construction, Minneapolis-based Rise Modular and DJR Architects of Minneapolis.

Juan Torres, the project development manager and the agency’s assistant director of planning and development, said the proposal offered a “perfect” solution to provide high-quality affordable housing. The winning team has a “significant amount of experience” building modular projects across the state, Torres said.

One of the city’s objectives is to develop more affordable housing in areas of the city where it doesn’t currently exist, Torres said. The project is also a way to take advantage of the higher density allowed by the city’s 2040 comprehensive plan.

From the agency’s perspective, Torres said “the biggest benefit of modular construction is that the offsite and onsite work happen at the same time, to avoid a long construction schedule.” Modular building has been shown to be about 33 percent faster, on average, than conventional “stick built” construction, Torres said.

It’s also a good way to counter the effects of material price increases and supply chain delays, because certain decisions on “finish items” have to be made earlier in the process. “It pushes decision-making forward,” he said.

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