Innovative proposals to solve South Florida’s housing crisis

Brett Perry of RENCO USA holds up a composite building module, one of the innovative products and methods on display at the Building Blocks Housing Summit, hosted by Miami-Dade Mayor Daniela Levine Cava, at loanDepot park, on June 30, 2022.

Brett Perry of RENCO USA holds up a composite building module, one of the innovative products and methods on display at the Building Blocks Housing Summit, hosted by Miami-Dade Mayor Daniela Levine Cava, at loanDepot park, on June 30, 2022.

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Some innovative solutions to South Florida’s housing crisis were presented at last month’s Building Blocks Housing Summit, organized by Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and the Department of Public Housing and Community Development.

Modular homes of modern design that can be ready in six months, shipping containers that are recycled into homes and 3D home design could help Miami-Dade, which has seen an increase in prices for buying and renting homes due to the scarce supply of available housing.

Miami-Dade is considered “the epicenter of the housing crisis in the United States,” according to U.S. Housing Secretary Marcia Fudge.

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On June 30, panels of national and local experts gathered at loanDepot park and outlined efforts to deal with the county’s land shortage, to provide resources to help homeless or first-time homebuyers, and to build more homes near public transportation access. Above all, they stressed the urgency to act effectively.

“We have a big problem, and we cannot solve it with the old methods. We have to find new methods, things that are resistant, that can be built and installed quickly, and approvals must be given promptly,” Levine Cava told el Nuevo Herald in the Steelhomes company kiosk, which was built with a steel frame like the one that underpins the modular homes made at its factory in Opa-locka.

Levine Cava said that the county has a program underway to streamline building permits and is reviewing how to make it faster.

“We want more affordable housing in areas close to public transportation, and we have policies to favor this,” said Levine Cava, indicating that, as a consequence, fewer cars will be on the roads and fewer parking lots will be built, which benefits the environment.

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Modular homes in Miami-Dade

One option is modular homes. Yuri Yñigo, director of operations for Steelhomes, told el Nuevo Herald that once county permits are obtained, modular homes can be ready in 60 to 90 days.

To start the process, it is necessary that the buyers have the land where the house is going to be installed. Then they choose the design from the company’s catalog, and the house is assembled in the controlled environment of the Opa-locka factory.

“These homes are not only built faster, but they are healthier, resistant to termites and mold,” Yñigo said.

The structures, which come with kitchens and light fixtures, can become hospitals, hotels and multi-family buildings. They don’t cause interruptions in traffic or raise a lot of dust when being installed. They also adapt to the county’s plan to build more buildings on major city arteries where land is available.

Recyclable containers

Another option is recyclable containers. Jarrett J. Lash, responsible for growth strategies at Sheltainer Homes, an Orlando company that recycles shipping containers into homes, explained that the containers are perfect for withstanding Florida’s hurricanes.

“They are designed to withstand the elements of transatlantic trade,” Lash said, noting that in a photo showing the damages caused by Hurricane Maria, only the containers were left standing.

The containers are produced on the assembly line of a factory in New York, a former warplane factory during World War II that has now been reinvented to meet the high demand for housing.

“Our goal is the large-scale construction of modular apartments, and we see shipping containers as the basis for this. They are super strong and meet the requirements of the Miami code,” explained Lash, whose startup is one of the representatives of the private sector that collaborates with the county.

“We’ve seen that public officials are true innovators, committed to providing opportunities and funds to find innovative solutions so that people who work in South Florida have a safer and cheaper place to live,” Lash said.

The containers can also be acquired by individuals to install in their backyards. Some are the size of a room and come equipped with efficient appliances and have a layer of insulation to protect from high temperatures.

Lash envisions them covered in greenery or painted with a mural on their exterior.

“One of its advantages is that it’s not necessary to build foundations because they are fixed to the ground at the corners,” he said, noting that since concrete or wood are not used, there are savings in the cost of materials and therefore these housing units are cheaper.

If a home in Miami-Dade costs $330,000 to buy, shipping container units would cost less than $200,000.

The National Association of Home Builders estimates that building a house in the United States costs on average about $300,000 plus about $90,000 for a lot. In most of South Florida, building a home would cost a lot more than that price.

“We want them to be affordable, sustainable and efficient to deliver as quickly as possible,” Lash said.

Other ways to own a home in Florida

Nicole Murphy Cano, director of strategies for Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida, acknowledged that the need for affordable housing in Florida will continue to be a priority.

“We have to put more resources into innovation, especially in materials,” said Cano, who is excited about the advancement in 3D home design. “It’s something different than what we’ve been doing.”

In Florida, there is already a 3D-printed house built by the company Printed Farms, which collaborated with the University of Miami on a project to remodel a historic house in Coconut Grove using a 3D printer.

Another innovative company is RENCO USA, a manufacturer of modular composite structures used in construction. Its kiosk at the Housing Summit showed structures that looked like Lego sets, and people were invited to move them as if they were a giant chess game. One of the housing solutions of the future already operates in Jupiter, in Palm Beach County, where RENCO USA recently moved its headquarters.

But all the solutions to the housing crisis are not tangible.

Some involve a change in the mindset, said Cano, whose agency “guides buyers step by step in the frustrating process of buying a home.”

“You have to redefine what it means to own a home. It’s not about having a house with a white picket fence. Other types of housing should be considered,” said Cano, who sent a message to buyers and renters: “Keep hope and be persistent.”

This story was originally published July 14, 2022 5:35 PM.

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Sarah Moreno cubre temas de negocios, entretenimiento y tendencias en el sur de la Florida. Se graduó de la Universidad de La Habana y de Florida International University.