EDMONDS — The crowd at Edmonds Lutheran Church let out a collective cheer as the Blok, a 260-square-foot prefabricated home, was finally lifted from the back of the semi-truck last week and placed on its foundation. After starting its journey from a warehouse in Vancouver that morning, the unit was almost ready for its first tenant even before the day had ended.
The company behind the prefab stackable Blok says the units, which can be built faster and cheaper than typical home construction, offer a new approach to building affordable housing the region so desperately needs.
“We think this is going to be life-changing,” said Janet Pope, the CEO for Compass Housing Alliance.
The affordable housing developer, a nonprofit, is partnering with Edmonds Lutheran to build low-income housing on church grounds using Bloks, and this unit is just the start of what the groups are planning.
It’s also the first project by Blokable, a Seattle-based startup with a goal of reducing the time and complexity it takes to construct a home.
There’s a lot of available land and financing for home construction, says Aaron Holm, founder of the company.
“But nobody is building it for the folks who need it.
“The issue of affordable housing is it’s way too complicated, expensive and takes way too long to build,” Holm said.
One way to expand housing, Holm said, is to rethink the way homes and apartments are built. Rather than building a custom home on-site, Blokable’s units are constructed in a warehouse in southwest Washington, then dropped into place.
Holm said the Bloks can be built up to four times faster for about a third of the cost of typical on-site construction. The company declined to disclose exact build times for Bloks.
Affordable housing is needed now, not five years from now, said Edmonds Lutheran Church Pastor Julie Josund as she used her cellphone to document the installation last week.
“We have an urgency with housing,” Josund said. “If we can get (affordable units) out more quickly than typical construction it’s going to be huge.”
The steel-framed units come in two sizes and can be connected together to create multi-bedroom units. They also can be stacked up to three high to create a multistory apartment building that can easily be replicated and adapted for a range of layouts and uses. Each unit has its own bathroom and kitchen.
“Think of Blokable like Legos. You can put three units together to make a bigger unit,” said Suzanne Sullivan, director of advancement for Compass Housing. “Even with tons of new development, we can’t keep up with the demand. This is affordable housing we can do swiftly.”
The unit delivered Friday is a demonstration model that the church and Compass Housing hope will lead to an affordable housing complex using Bloks. The Lutheran congregation had long wanted to put a vacant parcel behind the church to better use, said Tim Oleson, a pastor.
“Whatever we do back there, we want it to last and create an environment of long-term health and success,” Oleson said.“We aren’t going to do something that’s a Band-Aid.”
In the next phase, the groups are planning to stack 10 to 20 Blok units up to three high. This would be Compass Housing’s first project in Snohomish County. The third phase would expand the complex to 60 to 70 units.
Compass Housing said it is still fundraising for the next phases of the project.
The Bloks are approved in four states: Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California, according to the company. They are built to meet or exceed current energy standards, and they are accessible for people with disabilities. The company is also working on a project in Auburn.
Holm said seeing folks remodel shipping containers into homes inspired the Blok units.
“It was an indication that the market was broken,” he said.
Edmonds Lutheran, at 23525 84th Ave W, is hosting an open house at 6:30 p.m. Thursday to give the public an opportunity to explore the unit.