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Hamilton looking at modular homes as a quick path to more affordable housing

The city of Hamilton is looking into offering up two properties for modular homes, which are homes made in a factory, transported and rebuilt on site. And it wants someone to operate them as supportive housing.

City council’s emergency and community services committee voted Thursday to look at private and public lots that could be used for modular housing. It’s a concept that’s worked in Vancouver, says Coun. Chad Collins (Ward 5, Centennial), and Toronto recently incorporated modular homes into a new plan to ease homelessness during the pandemic. 

Collins says they could work fast in Hamilton too. Staff will report back on how to find a property and operator and get modular homes installed within a year. It will also report back on possible ways to get federal funding for supportive housing.

“The benefits are many,” he said. “You can build these units off site. They are transported to a location. They are much lower cost than the unit cost for bricks and mortar development.”

Modular homes are put together like “I don’t want to say Lego, but maybe that’s the best way I can explain it,” he told councillors. “They’re attached to each other and the buildings can be quite small, medium sized or even large.”

Hamilton’s affordable housing crunch has come into greater focus since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a growing number of tents downtown. 

“We really need to find new and innovative ways to build our units, quicker and at a lower cost,” says Coun. Chad Collins. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

While people living in tents isn’t new in Hamilton, encampments have been more visible of late. City staff say there are as many as 120 tents at 19 encampments across Hamilton, with the bulk of them Ferguson Avenue North and at the FirstOntario Centre.

Collins, who is president of CityHousing Hamilton (CHH), said the waiting list for social housing sits at 6,200 households right now. Providers, meanwhile, are up against growing construction costs. A new CHH report, he said, shows the cost to construct a new affordable housing unit has grown from $260,000 per unit to $475,000.

“Modular housing provides an opportunity for housing providers to stretch their dollars farther,” he said.

“We really need to find new and innovative ways to build our units, and quicker, at a lower cost.”

City council still has to ratify the motion next week. Coun. Sam Merulla (Ward 4, east end) moved it on Thursday because Collins isn’t on that committee.

The City of London is also looking at modular housing.

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