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To House the Homeless, Berkeley Considers Stackable 'Microunits'

The city wants to erect a tower made of stacked, prefab 160-square-foot apartments.

Panoramic Interests

If Berkeley gets its way, its homeless population could someday be living in 160-square-foot “microunits”—sort of like comfy shoe boxes that can be stacked into larger structures.

The city council unanimously voted this week to explore the feasibility of a “rapid and cost-effective” deployment of these units, which would also be available to seniors, disabled people, and the extremely poor. The goal is to site them on an unspecified parcel of city land, possibly in a stack of 100 that reaches up four stories. The rent for the units is $1,000 a month, which would be paid by the city and is well below Berkeley’s average apartment rent of $3,233.

Panoramic Interests

The city hopes to tap a private developer to finance and build the project. While it hasn’t named one yet, a good possibility is Panoramic Interests, a San Francisco-based company that claims to be able to erect a microunit tower in as little as nine months, permitting process and fabrication time included. Panoramic has been showcasing its “MicroPAD” model around California for some time, including this guy in Sacramento:

Here’s the company’s pitch:

In San Francisco alone, there are almost 7,000 people living on the streets. The MicroPAD™ was created to provide the homeless with high quality housing, quickly and economically. PAD stands for Prefabricated Affordable Dwelling, and is a fast, effective and permanent homeless housing solution. Each dwelling comes fully furnished with a private bathroom, kitchenette, armoire, desk and bed. Made from steel, with 9-foot ceilings, all in 160 square feet. These are more than a place to stay; MicroPAD™ units give homeless people a place to live.

Panoramic has already built a couple of microunit developments in San Francisco, including a car-free one with 160 wee apartments located downtown. Its owner, Patrick Kennedy, has stated he wants to provide 5,000 homeless people in the Bay Area with units in five years. However, his plan for a 200-unit building for the homeless recently hit a roadblock in San Francisco, partly due to the units being constructed in China. Kennedy plans to work with a local architect, reports Berkeleyside, and use union labor to address any such problems in Berkeley.

Panoramic Interests

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.