Modular housing project to open in Oshawa next month as Durham homeless numbers spike

A modular housing project for residents of Durham Region who are experiencing homelessness is set to open next month in Oshawa, Ont. 

Less than seven months after the region announced the pilot program, the micro housing units are almost complete. They are being built at a manufacturing plant in Cambridge, Ont., by NRB Modular Solutions and will be installed in a residential neighbourhood in central Oshawa in the coming weeks.

Upon completion, the new community will have 12 residential units. The homes will offer transitional housing with various health and social supports available at the site, including financial assistance, employment services, mental health and addictions and the teaching of life skills.

“We’re looking at innovative ways of being able to address [homelessness] as we move forward, but we’re struggling like everybody else,” said Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter.

“It’s about coming up with the right type of housing quick enough to be able to accommodate them, but also make sure people have the supported services to make sure that their housing is successful.”

Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter says modular housing could be used across Durham Region to house people experiencing homelessness if the pilot project proves successful. (CBC)

The micro-home project is meant to help address a housing shortage in the region and is part of the regional council’s 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. The project comes as Oshawa in particular is seeing a rise in the number of unhoused people, according to Carter. He says the city normally sees between 40 and 60 people experiencing homelessness every summer. This year, he says, that number spiked to more than 150. 

Experts say modular housing, where prefabricated units are constructed in a factory and then transported to the site for assembly, is a useful tool in tackling homelessness because the units are much quicker to build than traditional residential developments.

Small, but ‘well laid out’

The Oshawa modular housing community will be located on a grassy lot owned by Durham Region, bordered by Olive Avenue, Drew Street and Banting Avenue.

It will have two clusters of six units each. One building in each cluster will be used for utilities, and another unit will house workers from local agencies that will provide 24/7 wraparound services to the residents.

In total, nine people will gain access to the supportive housing.

Each unit measures eight feet wide by 40 feet long, which is about the size of a shipping container. They’ll come fully-equipped with a kitchenette, living space, bedroom, bathroom and a washer and dryer.

“It’s a small space, but it’s a well laid out, efficient space so that that person can be totally self-sufficient,” said Dawn Nigro, president of NRB Modular Solutions.

Dawn Nigro, president of NRB Modular Solutions, says modular housing units are beneficial for combatting homelessness because they can be built relatively quickly. (Chris Mulligan/CBC )

The region says it is using a list of people experiencing homelessness in the region to identify who would benefit most from the pilot. Residents will be required to enter into a participation agreement, instead of signing a lease.

The project is expected to run for around five years, at which point the units will have to be moved to make way for a road widening construction project.

Modular housing increasingly popular

Carter said while getting people off the street and out of the elements as winter approaches is a success in and of itself, the region will be watching closely to see if the program can be expanded.

“If it’s a product that can meet the needs of the speed, the availability, affordability and also supportive environment, why not take that model and continue to expand it and look at it?” he said.

Municipalities are increasingly turning to modular housing as a quick and affordable way to build housing. 

In its HousingTO plan, the City of Toronto committed to building 1,000 new modular homes over 10 years. Two projects with 100 units have already been completed, and another three projects are in development.

Modular housing has also been used in B.C., with over 600 completed units having been build in Vancouver alone in recent years.

“If speed is important, going modular is a really good solution,” said Nigro.

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