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San Diego Rejects Developer's Ideas For Increasing Affordable Housing Stock

Apis Cor 3D printed this home in 24 hours for a cost of about $10K.

Los Angeles developer Jennifer Litwak, founder of the nonprofit Housing on Merit, has a plan to build unsubsidized affordable housing for $150K/unit, compared to $350K/unit for taxpayer-subsidized projects. She wanted to build a Housing Innovation Learning Laboratory to test new approaches to housing, including apartments from shipping containers and tiny, 3D printed “urban cabins” — sized similar to the micro-units being built in urban locations nationally, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

Shipping containers built the 60 work/live units in Southwick's Elephant Park in London.

The six-year-old nonprofit organization has raised $1M to acquire or lease land needed for the project. Litwak made offers for land owned by the San Diego Housing Commission and Jacobs Center for Housing Innovation, a nonprofit with plans to redevelop areas in southeastern San Diego. Both offers were rejected. The SDHC told the San Diego Union-Tribune the bid was turned down in part because it would be difficult to get the project through the city’s approval process, but Litwak claimed the commission said it was too risky. Litwak decided to take her ideas back to Los Angeles.

A San Diego Union-Tribune editorial chided the SDHC for its short-sighted, narrow response to Litwak’s proposal. The editorial said the cost of housing is of immense concern for millions of low- and middle-income families who are being financially squeezed by rising rents.

Bikes parked inside the central courtyard at container student housing project Keetwonen in Amsterdam.

The Boston Society of Architects and housing developer Livelight last year debuted a 385 SF modular, stackable apartment prototype, called an Urban Housing Unit, or Uhu, that costs between $40K and $70K to build, the editorial noted. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Uhus were a solution for housing budget-limited students and young people otherwise priced out of the market.

And 3D-printed houses are not science fiction. San Francisco housing startup Apis Cor 3D printed a 409 SF home in 24 hours, with material costs of about $10K, and other companies across the U.S., Asia and Europe have demonstrated the viability of this new construction technology.

Inside a student housing unit at Amsterdam's Keetwonen shipping container complex.

Stacking shipping containers to create apartments also is not new. Shipping containers provided 60 work/live dwellings for residents with small and startup companies at Artworks Elephant in Southwark's Elephant Park in London. The project is by Europe-based TempoHousing, a developer specializing in recycling shipping containers as housing, which also built Keetwonen in Amsterdam. Keetwonen is the largest container student-housing project in the world with 1,034 units that rent for 400 euros/month.

Three Squared built Execptional Green Living on Rosa Parks, a 20-unit condo project near Wayne State University.

Twenty-four shipping-container student-housing units were built in Huntsville a few blocks from Sam Houston State University, which is about 75 miles north of Houston, USA Today reports. Additionally, a 20-unit condominium complex near Wayne State University, called Exceptional Green Living on Rosa Parks, is built of shipping containers. A four-story, 24-unit shipping container complex called SeaUA was erected near Catholic University. A 12-unit apartment complex constructed from shipping containers is providing housing for low-income women in Vancouver, BC, and a 100-unit complex of 260 SF shipping-container units opened in 2010 in Le Havre, France.