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Compass Crossing: New Homelessness Project Connects Efficiency with Responsiveness

Compass Crossing: New Homelessness Project Connects Efficiency with Responsiveness

A rendering of the Compass Crossing project, courtesy of OneBuild.

In my March 4, 2016 blog post entitled 3 Innovative Local Approaches to Tackling Homelessness, I described the efforts being utilized in three western Washington communities to provide homes for a growing population living without shelter.

Now a project in Seattle is combining two of these approaches: Everett’s adoption of the housing-first model and the Olympia/Thurston County tiny house village model. Compass Housing Alliance (CHA) brings these ideas together in a project recently given a $1M boost from the Paul G. Allen Foundation.

The project, known as Compass Crossing, is a housing-first model using a “progressive engagement model of trauma-informed care” for the residents’ anticipated physical and mental health conditions and/or chemical dependencies. It couples that with safe, affordable, steel-frame modular living space. These unique and intriguing attributes make the project both responsive to client needs while also leveraging efficiency of development.

Rather than conform to the traditional definitions of permanent, transitional, or emergency housing, Compass Crossing intends to “promote a new model of ‘Responsive Housing and Services’ that can be adapted to the specific needs of the people we serve, wherever they are on their journey from homelessness.”

On-site licensed mental health and case management professionals will assist residents in addressing barriers to stability so that they can successfully transition out of homelessness. Compass Crossing expects to help 50 individuals find stability over the expected three year occupancy at this site.

The development will include 13 housing units including six 240-square-foot double occupancy rooms and seven 160-square-foot single occupancy rooms.  The project will also include a multi-purpose community room and kitchen, garden space, on-site clinical and case management professionals, and property management. Compass Crossing will be pet-friendly, include storage for the residents, and provide options for partners to be housed together.

By utilizing steel-frame modular construction from OneBuild, an experienced supplier of off-site manufactured building modules and components for the construction industry, the project is significantly more cost, time, and resource efficient than traditional on-site construction. This speed and flexibility will enable CHA to move rapidly and effectively to meet the needs of the homeless. The estimated timeline is ten weeks for site work and five days to install the buildings and connect utilities. The target date for completion is December 2016.

The modular units will become a permanent affordable asset that can be moved and adapted to other under-utilized sites.

Compared to the number of homeless in the point in time count last winter, these 13 units alone seem to be a drop in the bucket, so to speak. But the key factor that garnered the support of the Allen Foundation was the potential for scalability, up or down. Both CHA’s Chief Operating Officer, Bill Reddy and OneBuild founder and CEO, Dale Sperling emphasized that this is intended to be a “proof of concept” project and that the Allen Foundation was particularly interested in the fact that they are designed to eventually be relocated and potentially added to depending on the size and attributes of other potential sites. According to Sperling the modularity of these units together with their low cost make them ideal for rapidly and cost-effectively responding to the homelessness crisis. Roughly ten of these can be produced for the cost of a single conventionally built unit. According to Sperling, each of these modules can be built for around $30,000 compared to $300,000 to $400,000 each for a site-built apartment unit. The modular construction also reduces the site development costs.

Although the steel-frame modular units may share some outward resemblance to a shipping container, they are definitely not recycled shipping containers. Each module is factory built from new materials to be fully code compliant as a residential unit. They are transported to the site and rapidly lifted into place. In fact OneBuild recently assembled a 30-unit apartment building near MRSC’s offices in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood in about 36 hours.

CHA and OneBuild believe this project will show how any community on any size or shape of site can adapt this type of construction to meet the needs of the homeless

For a community facing a crisis in homelessness or housing affordability, this demonstration project may provide serious options to consider. For rapid deployment, less cost, extreme flexibility, reusability and scalability, steel-frame modular construction is being given an opportunity for a real world demonstration thanks to the energies and commitment of the Compass Housing Authority, OneBuild, and the Paul G. Allen Foundation

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Lynn Nordby

About Lynn Nordby

Lynn’s public sector career included over 30 years in local government management and experience in virtually all municipal services including the operations of a wide variety of municipal utilities. He is now retired.