Pittsburgh Combats Affordable Housing Shortage with Modular, Factory-Built Homes

July 13, 2020
Rendering of modular homes built on Pittsburgh's Black Street
Rending of modular homes built on Pittsburgh's Black Street

As Pittsburgh lost much of its population when the steel industry declined, the Rust Belt city saw thousands of homes demolished over the past several decades. There are about 27,000 vacant properties throughout the city that do not contribute to the tax base, resulting in lower property values for surrounding homes. 

Module, a local start-up modular design and development company, saw the vacant lots as an opportunity to address Pittsburgh’s need for affordable, turnkey housing. Wages have not increased in line with rent and real estate, contributing to homelessness and leaving tens of thousands of low-income residents without access to affordable homes. Instead of sitting unoccupied, the lots can be used for housing. 

Module worked closely with the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to identify available land for modular, factory-built homes at a range of prices. They also worked with local organizations to ensure the homes would meet residents’ needs and bring investment to the neighborhoods. Module’s community-focused approach was why DuPont Performance Building Solutions chose to support the program.

This method of construction puts agency in the hands of occupants. Instead of searching the market for new and existing houses, buyers can select from a menu of options. This approach ensures that residents are in control of price, size and home features, which is especially critical for areas experiencing disinvestment.

Module homes also can evolve with families in a way traditionally built homes cannot. An occupant may want to add another floor as their family grows or a parent moves in. In these cases, a builder can remove the roof using a crane, add another floor shipped from a factory, and place the original roof back on the structure. The  occupants continue to live in a home that meets their needs without moving or undergoing long-term renovations.

Module built homes at a range of prices, allowing residents to choose what fits their income and needs. Among these options is a home catering to buyers making 80 percent or less of the neighborhood’s average income. The company is continuing to work with gap financing programs within the URA to lower the sale price, so more residents can afford the homes.

This affordability does not come at the cost of quality. In fact, these homes are built with greater durability and sustainability than some traditionally built homes. This is due to the efficiency and consistency of building in a factory setting rather than on-site, where construction may be dependent on weather and the process is less streamlined. 

While this is a small step in the national affordable housing crisis, it is a significant leap for Pittsburgh. As an organization focused on innovative solutions, DuPont sees modular construction as an opportunity to put occupants at the center of affordable homebuilding. Our goal is to continue learning from companies like Module about how emerging methods of construction can address societal issues like attainable housing.

Laura Dwyer is the global innovation leader for DuPont Performance Building Solutions. She is responsible for working globally to understand construction market needs and identify opportunities to collaborate and provide innovative solutions. Previously, she managed the Global DuPont Building Knowledge Center, an international network of experts who shape insights, creates tools, and provides resources to help members of the building industry navigate the changing future.

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