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[Photo: NAYA development] NAYA development

PORTLAND, OREGON - Think "government" and a lot of folks probably don't think "cutting edge." It's too big, they say, too slow, too tied-up in rules and regulations to do anything innovative.

Think again. Turns out that government and, in particular, the funds it distributes to its partners across the United States are being used to test new technologies, new ideas and new ways of doing business.

Visit, for example, Plummer, Idaho where the Nez Perce Tribe has piloted the use of straw bales to build affordable housing that's cool in the summer, snug in the winter. Or Puget Sound area where housing authorities have installed some of the largest residential solar arrays in Washington state. Or Anaktuvuk north of the Brooks Range in Alaska where the Tagiugmiullu Nunamiulli Housing Authority in collaboration with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, has built a home to last against the rigors of an Arctic climate. Or Stream Uptown, a new HUD-insured apartment complex in South Lake Union that is the city's very first carbon-neutral housing.

Or visit Kah San Chako Haws - or "East House" - at 97th and Holgate in the Lents neighborhood of southeast Portland, Oregon. It's a $1.7 million, three-building, nine-unit - three studio, three one-bedroom and three two-bedroom apartments - developed and just opened by the Native American Youth & Families Center, or NAYA, a non-profit that's serves the 38,000 Native Americans from 380 tribes that make Portland one of the ten largest urban Indian communities in the United States.

NAYA's new development will be affordable, thanks to financial support from the Portland Housing Bureau, Oregon Housing and Community Services, the Meyer Memorial Trust, Pacific Coast Bank and HUD project-based rental assistance provided by Home Forward, the housing authority of Portland.

At first glance, you'll certainly think it's an attractive complex, but nothing to knock your socks off. Until you learn that once its foundation was laid construction of the three-story building to three days.

It's not that surprising, probably, since each of the nine apartments at Kah San Chako Haws is modular. Indeed, it's Portland very first modular apartment building. The units themselves were built to specification by Blazer Industries in the small town of Aumsville about 55 miles south of Portland., then put on a flatbed and taken to a waiting foundation where a large crane waited to stack them on top of each other. All, again, in just three days.

In fact, from start to finish - arranging financing, designing the units, preparing the site, assembling each module, constructing and finishing the building - Kah San Chako Haws took 13 months "compared," notes Metroscape, "to traditional stick-built affordable housing complexes which normally take 18 months from design to completion."

And they're just getting started. Ultimately, they expect to "go from lot to completion in less than six months," Rey Espana, NAYA's director of community development told Eliot Njius of The Oregonian. It's "unheard of." Good news, added Emmons. "we're not building" affordable housing "fast enough" to meet demand. NAYA's project sets "a new standard for what affordable housing should be."

Something built that fast, some might argue, can't be that good. But think again. Construction of stick-built units takes time during which the materials from which they're made are exposed to wind and rain and snow and come what may. Blazer assembled the modular units in an enclosed, controlled environment, minimizing the risk to materials and also reducing the possibility of mold or mildew taking hold. The units were also built "tight," qualifying them to a LEED Gold rating. And it would probably have won LEED Platinum had different heat pumps been used for the two largest apartments. And all at a per-unit cost $10,000 less than stick-built. "Modular," says Emmons, "doesn't need to be chintzy."


Content Archived: February 9, 2015