Builder finds cheap alternatives for homes

January 6, 2009 11:20:09 AM PST
The lack of affordable housing in the Bay Area has changed the way Marin County looks at those so-called "in-law" units. It's inspired at least one builder to come up with a cheaper alternative to traditional construction.

While the mortgage crisis has driven home prices down by 40 percent in some parts of the state, the median price in Marin County in September was still $862,000.

There isn't enough affordable housing. Instead, people sit on waiting lists for three to six years.

"When the Section 8 housing wait list opened a few months ago, this is often used as an indicator for housing shortages, it was open for a week and they had over 10,000 applicants," said Leelee Thomas from the Marin Affordable Housing Program.

Thomas says in response to a state mandate to increase affordable housing, the county implemented a second unit amnesty program.

"They're there but were not legally there on the books, so we think that by legalizing it will be able to bring them up to better code standards and some better living conditions for the folks who live there," said Thomas.

The push for affordable housing also means new second units have an easier time getting county approval.

Contractor Nils Eriksson's project in Mill Valley sailed through. He says he was inspired to build because his children, who grew up in the area, can't afford to buy in Marin County. Someday the whole family might share the two homes.

"This becomes an answer to the question where is Mom going to live?" said Eriksson.

"Mom and dad," said ABC7's Heather Ishimaru.

Mom and Dad okay," said Eriksson.

But it's not just any second unit. It is the brainchild of contractor Theo Posthuma and it's a prototype he hopes will catch on.

The 750-square foot, one-bedroom, one-bath home is constructed entirely of a galvanized steel frame with no interior weight bearing walls. It is wrapped with lightweight, reinforced, three-inch concrete panels, topped with a metal roof and finished off with wood details courtesy of Eriksson.

"Theo is the steel man and I'm the wood man," said Eriksson.

"This building is pre-engineered and prefabricated on the other side of the bay. We brought it over here and we put the whole thing back together again," said Posthuma.

The concrete panels are made in Sweden. Posthuma says a 1993 photo of a Laguna Beach home made with them demonstrates how well they stand up to fire.

He won't be nailed-down on pricing, but says his prototype is cheaper than traditional wood construction because it requires less labor.

"Even if the product is a little more per square foot, but once you put it on you only have to put a finish on it, eco-stucco or something like pure lime, you've done. If the product is more expensive but labor goes way down, then you're ahead of the game," said Posthuma.

Eriksson plans to rent out his second home at first to recover costs, then his kids might move in.

Related Link:

  • Mill Valley Affordable Housing Committee