Pre-Fab Buildings to Ease the Housing Crisis

Modular housing is cheaper and faster to build compared to conventional buildings. These advantages could make it an effective and viable way to increase apartment housing stock.

November 4, 2019, 5:00 AM PST

By Camille Fink


Washington, D.C. Apartment

David Harmantas / Shutterstock

Matt Levin reports on developments in modular housing and its potential to bring down construction costs for larger buildings. A manufacturer in the San Francisco Bay Area assembles units offsite so the buildings can go up in days. "Picture one of those gigantic General Motors plants in Detroit, where a car is put together in an assembly line. Instead of a Buick and a conveyor belt, construction workers in hard hats and goggles are assembling a 156-unit apartment building for a development near Oakland," says Levin.

Levin also explores the history of pre-fab housing in the United States, including Operation Breakthrough, a federally funded $190 million initiative started in 1969 that eventually proved unsuccessful. "Much of the housing ended up being uninhabitable after a few years, adding to the public perception that factory-built housing was at best shabby, and at worst dangerous. Congress pulled the plug shortly after the prototype sites were completed."

Operation Breakthrough also could not achieve the necessary economies of scale, and today’s developers face the same challenge. With a focus on larger housing projects, rather than single-family homes, modular housing manufacturers hope that the market for mass-produced buildings will continue to grow.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019 in CALmatters

Chicago Commute

Planning for Congestion Relief

The third and final installment of Planetizen's examination of the role of the planning profession in both perpetuating and solving traffic congestion.

May 12, 2022 - James Brasuell

Twin Cities

Minneapolis Housing Plan a Success—Not for the Reason You Think

Housing advocates praise the city’s move to eliminate single-family zoning by legalizing triplexes on single-family lots, but that isn’t why housing construction is growing.

May 13, 2022 - Reason

LAX Cars

Car Noise Is Killing Us

It’s not just traffic collisions that kill—a new study from researcher at Rutgers finds that the loud noises emanating from cars has direct impact on heart health in Americans.

May 6, 2022 - Streetsblog USA

Rittenhouse Square, a park in Philadelphia, framed by large buildings.

Parks as a Weapon Against Climate Change

The 2022 ParkScore finds that cities are increasingly employing green space as a tool for mitigating heat and extreme weather effects, but the distribution of parks remains inequitable.

May 16 - Trust for Public Land

View of Louisiana state capitol building and downton Baton Rouge, LA

Louisiana Capital Shifting to Electric Transit

The Baton Rouge area is now served by a fleet of nine all-electric buses.

May 16 - American Journal of Transportation

Mount Rainier

New Community Engagement Practices for Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan Update

A major update of Seattle’s comprehensive plan is just getting under way, with new opportunities for local groups to get involved with outreach and engagement.

May 16 - Capitol Hill Seattle Blog

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.