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Oregon city eyes modular housing

Rey España, director of community development for the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland, Ore., is working to develop the city’s first multifamily modular affordable housing. Modular units save time and money, España said. (Photo by Dan Carter)

Rey España, director of community development for the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland, Ore., is working to develop the city’s first multifamily modular affordable housing. Modular units save time and money, España said. (Photo by Dan Carter)

Justin Carinci
Dolan Media Newswires

Portland, OR — A Lents neighborhood project would be Portland’s first use of modular construction in multifamily affordable housing. The Portland Housing Bureau has offered a $922,000 grant to the Holgate House project, which will provide nine units.

The project represents the first foray into new construction for the Native American Youth and Family Center, or NAYA, said Rey España, the organization’s director of community development. Using factory-built units gives affordable housing developers more options, he said.

“What the modular construction approach gives us is lower construction costs and shorter design time,” España said. “We could get projects done quicker and a little less expensively.”

The Housing Bureau’s grant gets the project more than halfway to the estimated $1.7 million cost, España said. The project could get more money from Oregon Housing and Community Services and private backers, he said.

Altogether, seven projects received $5.2 million from the Housing Bureau, spokeswoman Maileen Hamto said. The bureau’s grant program has $8 million to award, with the rest going to future projects.

Money for the program comes from federal grants and urban renewal districts. Nearly $1.5 million, from the Lents Urban Renewal Area, must go to projects in the Lents neighborhood.

Dan Williams, the Housing Bureau’s senior finance coordinator, said the Holgate House could lead to a wave of new modular affordable housing. “We’re really looking at it as a way to potentially decrease the cost of these projects,” he said.

Building the units more quickly also has appeal, Williams said. “The goal would be to cut construction time in half,” he said, to as little as four or five months instead of nearly a year.

Although modular units are sometimes criticized, Williams said the Holgate House will be at least as durable and attractive as a traditional wood-framed house built on-site.

Modular units, built in a climate-controlled factory, are less susceptible to adverse weather conditions, he said.

“You can’t tell it’s modular housing,” Williams said. “It looks like a quality stick-built project.”

That’s one of the development team’s goals, architect Stuart Emmons said. “As far as the design goes, it’s designed well and fits with the community,” he said.

Holgate House will be three stories tall and three units deep. The nine units will be three each of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.

Residents will pay no more than 30 percent of their income for housing.

In addition, site-specific requirements state that the project must remain affordable housing for 60 years.

The development team is in negotiations with the factory to build Holgate House, said Ross Cornelius, development manager with Guardian Real Estate Services. Once that’s finalized, the team will choose a contractor.

Factory-built units make sense in Portland, Cornelius said, and also in small towns. “Smaller communities that don’t have as much development and contracting capacity can get these done and shipped out to them,” he said.

“If they haven’t got the larger contracting firms,” Cornelius said, “they can do the assembly and site work locally.”

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