The first 78 modular units built for the City of Vancouver’s homeless and supplied by Horizon North will be B.C.-made using B.C. materials and labour, according to president and CEO Rod Graham.
But, there is no guarantee that all the B.C. government-promised 2,000 modular units for the homeless will be B.C. built and create jobs.
“The modular buildings will be built in B.C., as well as Alberta,” Rajvir Rao, communications manager for B.C. Housing, said in an email. B.C. Housing is the entity handling the homeless contracts for the provincial government while the Vancouver Affording Housing Association is acting for the City of Vancouver.
Rao said it was a open call to all interested parties to build the units. As such, there is no requirement that the units be built in B.C. or use B.C. labour or materials such as wood. “While it is not a requirement of the RFQ, B.C. Housing supports the B.C. Wood First Initiative,” he said.
BC Housing is currently seeking an expression of interest from companies who can design and manufacture 1,400 housing units for distribution throughout B.C. The other 600 units have been allocated to Vancouver, with Horizon North supplying the units.
Rao said: “As a crown corporation, BC Housing is required, through a competitive public bid process, to identify the highest and best use of public money.”
In the 2017 budget update, the B.C. government announced it would spend $291 million to support the construction of 2,000 modular housing units over two years and spend $170 million over three years providing staffing and support services. It would spend another $208 million over four years to support the construction of more than 1,700 new units of affordable rental housing in B.C. communities.
The first of those contracts — with Vancouver getting $66 million in funding over what it normally provided for winter homeless shelters — will see those dollars staying in B.C. as Horizon North lands the first 78 units of up to 600 the city has subscribed to.
“It will all be (done) in B.C. with B.C. sourced wood and everyone in the plant will be a B.C. employee,” Graham said, as the manufacturing will be done at the company’s Kamloops plant.
Horizon North Camp and Catering Partnership beat out Ladacor Ltd./Atira Women’s Resource Society Partnership and Triple M Modular Ltd. (dba Britco Commercial) for the city contract.
Graham’s news is good news as both construction industry associations and building trades want to see public funds accruing benefits to local businesses and construction industry trades.
“We don’t need another Site C where 20 per cent of the work force is from Alberta,” said Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the BC Building Trades. “Every public project should include young people as apprentices, should have First Nations inclusion and work to get more women into the trades,” he said. “There is the opportunity for dividends to be paid back to B.C.”
Sigurdson has been vocal on the need for employers to find more positions for apprentices. “I can’t underscore enough the need for provision for apprentices and when we have a fabrication style of work like this, it is an ideal situation.” The manufacturing environment is not an open site and there is more opportunity for apprentices to interact with journeymen to learn from.
Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, said “It is an excellent opportunity for B.C.’s modular home construction industry.”
He estimates that there are approximately 10 companies of varying size in B.C. able to opt into the B.C. Housing call for another 1,400 units of the announced 2,000. “I think most of them will,” he said, but the timeline may be a factor. Gardner believes there is the skill and capacity in B.C. to fulfill the order. Gardner is hopeful that “most (of the units) will likely be procured in B.C.”
The BC Housing October post on BidCentral for 1,400 modular homes has attracted 22 plan holders to the project with 17 from B.C. and five from Alberta, according to the B.C. Construction Association (BCCA). “This indicates there is capacity and interest amongst modular builders in B.C.,” said Lisa Stevens, BCCA marketing and communications consultant, in an email.
Graham said his company is bidding on the posted 1,400 units and has invested in making the Kamloops plant into a “centre of excellence” with software programs, working with Thompson Rivers University to use apprentices, and a workforce that is 14 per cent Indigenous. “We want a piece of it and we think we are quite good at what we do. We can deliver on a time line,” he said.
Graham’s company already has a major chunk of the business. The City of Vancouver has signed a memorandum of understanding with Horizon North to provide up to 600 units with each unit should be 250-350 square feet and 300 self-contained apartments should have a unit cost of $75,000 while the other 300 would have a unit cost of $145,000. The first group of housing is slated to go to a site at 57th and Cambie.
Graham said Horizon North has a track record with the City of Vancouver after building a modular housing unit at Terminal. The 40-unit modular building at Terminal and Main “was really a test case”, he said. Once the design was approved by the city’s Vancouver Affordable Housing Association, the order was processed quickly. “It took only 45 days,” he said for the units to be manufactured, trucked to site and erected by Northern Horizon’s crew.
Graham said the same kind of expediency is being applied to the city’s first order of 78 modular units in two buildings, which should be on site at 57th Ave. and Cambie by Christmas. “That is our intention,” he said, adding it will be up to the city to decide when they are open to occupancy. The Cambie and 57th Ave. site is one of a dozen under consideration by the city for allocation of further housing.
Horizon North is a modular home builder that has traditionally served the oil and gas sector but since Graham’s appoint three years ago as chief executive officer, it has deepened its path into other forms of modular construction, ranging from senior centres and hotels to multi-family. Recently, it acquired modular premium home builder Karoleena in Okanagan Falls. It also has a manufacturing plant in Grande Prairie.
ICBA’s Gardner said that the homeless initiative is only part of the problem in providing housing for all individuals in Vancouver. “The affordability in B.C. in housing is based upon supply,” he said and currently developers spend 2.5 to 3.5 years moving through permitting and regulation processes to get a project out of the ground.
“We just need different rules,” he said as the challenge is reducing red tape.