GRAND RAPIDS — Compact housing builder Urbaneer Inc. is poised to grow with a partnership with Troy-based Champion Home Builders to manufacture accessory dwelling units.
The 510-square-foot accessory dwelling units are meant to serve as one solution to affordable housing issues around the country. The partnership with Champion, a subsidiary of Skyline Champion Corp., should allow Urbaneer within the next 12-18 months to exceed the number of units it has built since its inception in 2012.
“We’ll be producing an Urbaneer-branded unit at 14 plants across the country,” Bruce Thomspon, founder and president of Urbaneer told MiBiz. “We can hit 48 states. That is something we’re the first to be able to say with these compact units, specifically with accessory dwelling units.”
Urbaneer’s products can now be built in factories and take about eight days to complete, as opposed to the timeline for on-site building, which could take about eight months. Founded in 2012, Urbaneer has patents on movable walls with wireless power that can make rooms smaller or larger on-demand. Its homes incorporate those elements into their architecture and will be developed as part of Skyline’s Genesis brand.
Thompson said expanding to other states will allow Urbaneer to build in areas like Los Angeles that have been hit severely by an “affordable housing crisis.”
“It’s really just the start,” Thompson said. “For us as a West Michigan company to be able to reach the nationwide market, especially on the west coast, where the housing crisis is most significant — we know there’s a big market. One of the challenges before is that we just couldn’t get to it.”
The west coast is a significant market for Urbaneer, as the city of Los Angeles has a limited number of permits available for the building of accessory dwelling units. Other communities, like Grand Rapids and Holland, have decided to allow accessory dwelling units as an option to encourage more housing units in urban areas.
According to data from the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, accessory dwelling units are cheaper and easier to build than other forms of affordable housing and are “naturally affordable housing.” In 2017, the Terner Center found that 58 percent of accessory dwelling unit owners in California rented their units at below market rate, with most advertising their units as affordable for those earning about 62 percent of the area median income.
Thompson said there are shifting attitudes when it comes to living, with younger generations favoring more compact spaces in urban, walkable areas. The problem is the affordable options meeting those standards are limited, Thompson said. Communities are slowly beginning to assess options to increase options.
“We’re seeing changes come to zoning and what’s acceptable,” Thomson said. “We do look out west specifically, where some of the barriers have been removed. Those are still a challenge in West Michigan. I think it’s an evolution; I think we’ll get there.”