Farewell to Erin Carroll!
Farewell to Erin Carroll!
July 4, 2019
Melissa McEnroe, York Region
On May 30th, ULI Toronto hosted an exciting morning of discussion, debate, and learning about modular housing, with a specific focus on its potential to address the unprecedented affordability crisis in this city.
Luke Harrison, Former Director and CEO, Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency kicked off the Design Exchange-hosted event with a presentation about the valuable lessons learned around modular development in Vancouver that addressed homelessness and at-risk populations with a housing-first approach.
Harrison explained that there are four factors of affordability that can be examined when searching for opportunities to build housing: Unlocking land potential, reducing development costs, lower financing costs, and improving operating costs. Modular housing helps in each of these factors.
A key component of Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency’s success with modular homes was the quick project timelines, which Harrison summarized as “idea to occupancy in six months.” With the average development and construction time-frames approaching six years in Vancouver, the idea of a quick start and easily implemented building permit process was surely appealing to the Toronto crowd.
Another important benefit of building with modular is cost predictability. With a highly controlled supply chain, a reduced amount of material waste, and a large component of construction occurring offsite in weather controlled facilities, Harrison argues that modular allows for an efficient and deliberate approach to building that typical construction practices do not offer.
Attendees were also treated to a presentation from Bart Tocci, Business Development, Tocci Building Corporation, the builder behind Boston’s largest modular housing project. Tocci’s perspective as a private sector builder in a city that also faces affordability issues was valuable, and offered insight into the market-based approach that would support an increase in the supply of housing in a city.
Tocci highlighted the benefits of a modular approach from a builder’s perspective, chiefly that the cost management, quality control, and time savings are huge incentives to move Toronto builders towards this model. For those hesitating to commit firmly to modular, he offered the suggestion of designing the building with modular as the goal, with the reminder that construction with stick could still be a possibility if the builder decided to change direction.
Challenges still abound with modular construction, Tocci admitted, which include perception of modular construction, limited manufacturing opportunities in certain geographic areas, and a reduced tolerance for changes after the design stage. Despite these challenges, Tocci Building Corporation continues to see opportunities and continued success in the modular building realm.
Panel moderator Signe Leiske, Partner at Cassels Brock, led a lively discussion featuring the two speakers in addition to John van Nostrand, Founding Partner, SvN and Lynda Macdonald, Director, Community Planning with the City of Toronto. The panel spoke frankly about the issue of permanence with modular construction, with issues such as tenant long term housing security, risks of a lower building lifespan, and role of modular to address transitional housing needs.
Van Nostrand used examples of post-war bungalows and other similarly timed DIY kit-homes to illustrate the history of modular construction in this city, driving the point home that modular is nothing to be afraid of and housing should be considered a process, not a single product. Lynda Macdonald offered a more reserved approach, indicating that the City has to consider the long term effects of such decisions, including risks to residents of potential non-permanent homes. Macdonald suggested that modular construction could play a key role in large scale redevelopment projects such as Alexandra Park, as well as offer tremendous benefits to laneway housing approaches.
The panel also addressed the issue of modular construction as a greener alternative to traditional build. There was agreement among the professionals that it offered more environmentally conscious alternatives through less waste being directed in landfills, more precise manufacturing techniques that reduce creation of certain waste, and more ease to building to LEED and Passive House standards due to increased control. The precise benefit will vary project to project, but overall, the panel agreed modular builds could provide greener alternatives.
Thank you to our event sponsors.
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