Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Manufactured Solutions to Crisis

Prior posts, like the one at this link have addressed the great possibilities for the future that rest in manufactured and prefabricated housing. And as a housing boomlet develops in Hurricane Katrina's wake, it seems a perfect opportunity to address how that tragic situation, and the nation's housing crisis might find solutions in factory-built housing.

I did some research and found a Los Angeles Times story published in June about the issue. The story's long gone from the LA Times site, but there's a downloadable WORD version of it at this link. As the story says "assembly lines can play a vital role in helping to alleviate California's housing crisis."

Here's an excerpt:
Forget the archetypal mobile home - the squat, boxy, double-wide that resembles a giant bar of soap. The new generation of factory-built housing ranges from less than 1,000 to more than 3,500 square feet, can have multiple stories and includes some hip designs.

Architects, developers and builders of factory housing contend it can provide a high-quality, timesaving and cost-effective alternative to traditional site-built homes. And enthusiastic buyers from the sandy shores of Newport Beach to the working-class streets of downtown Oxnard are helping prove the point.

Factory-built homes, while still few and far between, are being purchased for primary residences, guesthouses and weekend getaways. And the buyers come from a range of income levels, defying the notion that housing built in a factory is somehow less desirable for those who can afford a site-built dwelling.

Although factory-built manufactured and prefabricated houses differ in several ways, the most fundamental difference is that a manufactured home has a steel chassis, like most mobile homes, whereas a prefabricated one does not. Both have multiple components that are assembled at their final destination on a permanent foundation.

Manufactured housing is being well received in California in both rural and urban areas, said Bob West, president of the California Manufactured Housing Institute, a trade group.

In 2004, 10,370 new manufactured homes were delivered statewide, up from 8,441 in 2003, an increase of 23%, according to the institute. West said he expects an increase of 10% this year.

Two-story models, such as the house that Vasquez purchased in downtown Oxnard, will play a key role in the future of manufactured housing, West said, because they allow more square footage on costly land.

Prefabricated housing, sometimes referred to as modular, is on the rise too, although the Modular Building Systems Assn. in Pennsylvania doesn't track California because the industry is still relatively new in the West.

Not as well known as its manufactured cousin in California, several factories have begun building prefabricated housing, including a plant that went online May 31 on the Hoopa Valley Reservation in Northern California.

William Bobbitt, chief executive of the Hoopa Modular Building Enterprise, said his factory can do anything in a prefabricated form that a site builder can accomplish.

"You're limited to your imagination and what a guy like me running a factory is willing to do," said Bobbitt, who's been in residential construction for 35 years. "I've built in every way possible … and there is no better way to build that I know of than a modular home."

Silvercrest Western Homes Corp. operates two factories in California that build both manufactured and prefabricated homes.
This building opportunity could be a real proving ground for factory-built houses, but after reading this article I'm convinced that the real test will not be in whether the market likes the product, but rather if site-built contractors will fight against them.

Download a Word file of the story at this link

Hat tip to Globe Thistle for inspiring the discussion.
— The Boy in the Big Housing Bubble