Housing inequality, affordable housing shortages, and homelessness are persistent and complex challenges in our society that have worsened during the pandemic. The added pressures of COVID-19 have highlighted critical gaps in the social safety net, particularly with respect to affordable housing.
Certainly, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this widespread and multifaceted housing crisis. Correcting it will require time, money, innovation, and committed collaboration between all levels of government, developers, not-for-profit housing authorities, and numerous other stakeholders.
Fortunately, there are passionate groups across Canada engaged in developing solutions to help address the critical shortage of affordable housing. One promising solution borne out of such collaboration is the YWCA’s new mass timber housing development in Kitchener at Block Line Road. The 41-unit, $6.9 million affordable and supportive housing project is funded by the federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) and financially supported by the City of Kitchener which approved a 50-year lease, on city land that is valued at $2 million, to the YWCA for $1.
A core requirement of the RHI funding is that the development be built quickly. While the city offering the land certainly helped fast track the project, which is slated for occupancy by the end of December this year, it is the optimized, prefabricated cross-laminated timber solution, developed by the project team of Melloul Blamey, Edge Architects, and Element5, that will be the key to the successful, rapid delivery of the project.
The innovative, prefabricated CLT design takes advantage of manufacturing efficiencies that helped drive down cost. Furthermore, the use of prefabricated mass timber components for both the structure and building envelope significantly reduced the construction schedule. This modular delivery method, where building components are factory-built and then rapidly assembled on-site, offers cost savings over a strictly site-built project.
The wood solution delivers other benefits as well, most notably for building occupants. The partially exposed CLT structure creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere and, while for some that may seem like a ‘nice to have’ and not necessarily a priority when looking to quickly deliver affordable housing, the physical and psychological benefits of incorporating natural elements like wood into buildings have been proven by research to directly contribute to the health and well-being of building occupants.
It’s time we rethink the way our society is built and, now that mass timber has met the challenge of affordability, it can – and should be – an option for everyone. Wood is the only major building material we have that is renewable. Unlocking its potential will help us meet the housing challenges of our time in a sustainable way while delivering healthy, attractive buildings that improve people’s lives.
Sarah Hicks is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Element5.