Unique housing build in Berkeley made of prefab modular units from China

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- A unique housing build along Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley is a test model for bringing down construction costs. The pre-fabricated units were built in China then shipped to the Bay Area. The developer, Patrick Kennedy with Panoramic Interests, took ABC 7 News onto the construction site for a tour.

"This is our second modular project and we're trying to figure out a way to bring down the cost of building housing," said Kennedy.

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A potential cost solution, modular units, like shipping containers. Kennedy's photos show the units being stacked in a matter of four days. Imagine Lego blocks where a crane sets each rectangular box into place.

The units were built in China then shipped to the Port of Oakland.

"Prefab really only works if you're close to the ports because your trucking costs kill you as soon as you go far," explained Kennedy to one of the onsite workers.

It cost more to truck them from Oakland to Berkeley than it did to cross the ocean.

Once on site the units are connect by local contractors, electricians, and plumbers. But the inside of the studios are finished.

"The stairwells and the hallways get finished on site, but the units proper are completely done at the factory," said Kennedy.

The building has 22 units. They are 310 square feet and built to hold two people. The ADA accessible units are on the first floor. There's no parking or elevator for the four story building. There will be bike lockers.

Some neighbors are less than thrilled with the modern design and development in general.

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"In a residential neighborhood that's been here for more than 100 years there's no sense of trying to fit in," said Todd Darling, Berkeley resident.

Darling doesn't think this is the solution to the Bay Area's housing shortage.

"We're never going to build our way out of a housing crisis there are more people that want to live in the Bay Area then there is room for," said Darling.

Originally approved in 2010 as a boutique hotel developers later partnered with UC Berkeley in 2015 to make it graduate student housing.

"This got approved under a much more sympathetic administration with Mayor Bates, when Mayor Bates was Mayor. In fact he lives around the corner," said Kennedy.

The building is scheduled to be complete by September 1st. UC Berkeley set the rental rate for the furnished units at $2,180.

Kennedy says the modular units saved a lot of time. The building will take four months to construct whereas traditional construction would take a full year. But they didn't save much, if any, money going modular on this project because of the tight working conditions due to the lot size. He says with a large enough scale project it would be a more cost effective construction method.

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