October 07, 2019

Three innovative housing solutions for the people who need it most

Innovative Housing Solutions

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When my daughter turned one, my wife and I realized very quickly that we needed more space. Our one-bedroom apartment-style condo was no longer suitable for our growing family, and we moved into a newly constructed three-bedroom house.

However, while we were fortunate enough to have the means, resources and opportunity to buy a new house in a new neighbourhood, I'm more than aware that many families in Canada do not.

As my colleagues have highlighted, Canada and to a more considerable extent, North America, has a housing affordability crisis. This crisis is two-fold: there are not enough affordable options, and what is currently out there does not reflect the needs and wants of the younger generation—especially given the issues like climate change that require us to revaluate how we design and build infrastructure.

Housing is critical as it symbolizes stability, growth, and agency. Having a place to live means having a space of your own to cultivate and thrive in. I think it is essential that we collectively acknowledge the importance of housing that is accessible to everyone and makes it a priority to work with people who need it the most.

Seniors, students, the homeless and First Nations communities represent the most vulnerable in society, and a greater variety of housing solutions do exist to address their needs. While affordability is one obstacle, as mentioned earlier, it's also essential to have the right mindset and approach to address the needs of these people so they can have innovative, compact and a sustainable home within a complete community environment.

An excellent way to start to tackle issues related to homelessness, according to Guy Dauncy for The Tyee, municipalities should adopt the "Housing First" approach, ensuring that everyone has a home before focusing on mental illness, addiction, and other factors. Dauncey includes an example of how the City of Medicine Hat, Alberta, with a population of 60,000 has provided homes for 875 people, eliminating homelessness in their communities. We should apply this principle to address the shelter needs for homeless people in Canada and build innovative homes.

So, what does innovative housing solutions look like without having to sacrifice luxury and modern amenities?

Tiny Homes


Vancouver-based Trim Studio designed and created a tiny house in 2018 that has 10-square-meters of living space! Nicknamed the Galiano 100 Tiny house, this residential vacation home includes a living area, kitchen and wood-burning stove, bathroom, bedroom, an outdoor shower and a patio, as per the website Designboom.

Trim Studio designed the home with two levels and floor to ceiling glass doors, making the interior space feel bigger while incorporating wood to give the home character and warmth. Situated in a wooded area that overlooks the city, the home is an excellent example of how a simple, tiny and functional home can exude a lot of character.

Tiny homes cost less than homes of traditional size. They can average between $30,000 to $100,000, depending on the level of customization and materials that are used. However, they can also be built for even less. In Seattle, the non-profit Low-Income Housing Institute built 14 tiny homes on a plot of land that could be used for a typical single-family home for the city's homeless population. According to Emma Woolley, a research assistant with the Homeless Hub, the homes are transitional in nature and caseworkers are provided to help with securing food and assisting people in finding other homes and services. 

Students are another segment of our population that can benefit from a tiny house. Often students' who are going to college or university have limited housing choices due to their lower budget, and availability on campus. Multiply tiny homes can be built in the space required for one traditional single-family residence, and it can be made at a fraction of the cost. Also, multiple tiny homes can be grouped together to create communities for students who otherwise would be living in dorms, or renting apartments, or basement suits in houses located near their schools.

An Amsterdam based design studio, named Standard Studio, designed 218 units of student housing within an office building in a form called The Room at Hermes City Plaza in Rotterdam. The designers were inspired by tiny house movement, with about 15 metres squared in space equipped with toilet, shower, vanity, kitchen, dining table, desk, bed and storage space. And they designed common areas in the building in the roof terrace, music, television room and a laundry room that can be transformed into a study area.

Modular and Prefabricated Homes

Another affected group of people are our First Nation communities in Canada. A 2016 Census study by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) found, "Canada's indigenous households live in some of the worst housing conditions in the country. Nearly 20 per cent of indigenous people live in housing that needs major repairs, and 20 per cent live in [overcrowded housing]." As a result, CMHC has made improving indigenous housing a priority in the National Housing Strategy (NHS).

Modular and prefabricated homes can provide affordable, cost-effective construction methods that are also quick to build. In fact, sometimes it takes less than 50 per cent of the time it does for contractors to build homes on-site.

An impressive example of a prefabricated home, named Petit Place from a Dutch studio called Roosros Architecten, is powered by the sun. Roosros Architecten designed the prefabricated house as a kit made from wooden elements that can be assembled into a variety of sizes ranging from 25m2 to 929m2.

According to Liz Stinson for Curbed, the dwellings can be constructed by assembling the sections shaped like a pentagon and connected to form a more extended form with the façade being built from a grid of wood squares insulated in a Gore-Tex foil that sheds water and protects it from the wind. There are also solar panels, which generate 9,000 kWh per year, which is three times the amount of energy to power the home.

One of the most exciting things about this home, in my opinion, is that the plans can be downloaded, and it is based on the WikiHouse principle. The prototype for this flexible-prefab house features a small porch, living room and kitchen, and is designed with a bathroom that separates the spaces from the bedroom.

First Nation reserves and communities could benefit from this type of construction because modular homes provide affordable, cost-effective construction methods, and they are also quick to build, they can be an effective housing strategy for communities in the north, where construction season is short and bringing in materials is expensive. As well, the construction process is less evasive then traditional site-building and modular construction can reduce the carbon footprint of homes, as it and is resource-efficient and has reduced waste and CO2 emissions, as they can be assembled using state of the art building techniques and use green power in their construction in factories reducing the need to travel to site to construct buildings.

Net Zero Homes


Net-zero homes represent another innovative housing solution that can be utilized by people in need. A net-zero energy home or NZE is a home that produces as much clean energy as they consume. It achieves this through “producing more [energy] than it needs and [drawing] from the grid when the household demands exceed the amount of electricity produced on-site.” Over time, “the energy supplied to the grid balance the energy drawn from the grid, thus achieving net-zero energy consumption.”

Some of the building technology used in NZE homes should transferred to tiny homes and modular homes to make them more sustainable and efficient. The advantages would be the reduction of their carbon footprint and better for our environment.

Conclusion


It is crucial to think outside the box to develop creative and innovative solutions to address the housing needs of disadvantaged people. Collectively as a society, we should acknowledge the importance of building housing that is accessible to all people, and we should make it a priority to work with people who need it the most. Tiny homes and modular homes demonstrate how people can have access to affordable, sustainable homes that make the shelter more accessible to all people.