British Columbia

A year and a half in, B.C. more than half way to goal of 2,000 modular housing units

It seems like everyone who lives in the temporary modular housing units near Gateway SkyTrain Station in Surrey knows who the man with the blonde ponytail is.

Nearly 1,200 units had been completed as of early April

One of the newest modular buildings located at 258 Union Street has 52 studio homes, and residents are provided with daily meals, social supports and life skills training. (Cory Correia/CBC News)

It seems like everyone who lives in the temporary modular housing units near Gateway SkyTrain Station in Surrey knows who the man with the blond ponytail is.

"What are you now, a movie star?" a woman yells at him.

"If this was a movie, I'd change the channel," he hollers back.

Shayne Williams — whose career in social work spans nearly 30 years — is about to be interviewed by a TV crew because it's been a year and a half since the provincial government promised to build 2,000 units of modular housing in B.C.

Lookout Housing and Health Society executive director Shayne WIlliams says modular housing has made a huge difference in getting people off the street. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

The organization he heads up — Lookout Housing and Health Society — now manages several of those projects, including the one he's standing in front of.

"This is absolutely the most significant last 18 months in my memory," he said.

Promises made

The B.C. NDP rolled out its Rapid Response to Homelessness program in 2017, pledging $291 million to build 2,000 modular housing units and an additional $170 million to operate them.

The idea was to move people who were either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless into temporary modular housing.

A total of 1,199 units had been completed in B.C. as of April 5, 2019, according to figures provided by B.C.'s Housing Ministry.

Each unit has a mini fridge, microwave and private bathroom. (Haley Lewis/CBC)

More than 960 of those units are now occupied, and Williams says that has been a game changer in the fight against homelessness.

"Imagine you know that you're just trying to figure out where you're going to get your next hot meal and where you're going to sleep at night," he said.

"Then imagine all of that goes away."

In the 2019 budget, the province announced another $76 million to build an additional 200 modular units in B.C.

Quick building

The appeal of modular homes, which are manufactured off site, is that they're relatively inexpensive and can be built more quickly than traditional construction projects.

The 40-unit complex at Main Street and Terminal Avenue in Vancouver, for example, was completed in just 45 days by a company called Horizon North Logistics.

Chief financial officer Scott Matson says the homes are built in a warehouse, so crews can finish the suites while they're waiting for the city to issue permits.

"When we shift the boxes from our factory, it will have the kitchen and table and chairs, all the light fixtures, the paintings will be on the wall," he said.

"Everything will be already included in that box."

The site of Vancouver's very first modular homes was at 220 Terminal Avenue. The city intends to build 600 units as a response to the growing number of homeless. (City of Vancouver)

Once the city approves the project, crews assemble what is called a floating foundation instead of digging a gigantic hole.

"The foundation looks like tinker toys on the ground but it's actually designed to support the weight of a standard building," he said.

"It doesn't interfere in any way or invade the ground, so that foundation can actually be picked up or moved again."

Once the foundation is in place, the units can quickly be snapped together like pieces of Lego.

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