Saturday, February 24, 2018

Modular houses eyed for school district land



A proposal to install temporary housing on Greater Victoria school district property has been put forward by the Anomura Housing Society.

The Victoria-based organization, whose founding directors include architect Franc D’Ambrosio and design historian Kristina Leach, believes everyone should be able to afford quality housing. The group has started to work with landholders such as school districts, provincial governments and municipal governments to find locations that can sustain Anomura projects.

Anomura refers to the group of crustaceans that includes hermit crabs, which was deemed an appropriate symbol because Anomura homes are carried with you — like a hermit crab’s shell.

Officials from the Greater Victoria school district and Anomura are developing a feasibility study.

Anomura’s goal is to create modular housing that can be easily moved. A key element is to target underused land and give it purpose, while its long-term use is still being considered. Should a different project be identified, an Anomura home can go somewhere else.

The homes can be likened to Lego blocks, the Anomura website says. “You can put one together how you want, and then take it apart and put it together somewhere else using the same configuration or a new one.”

D’Ambrosio said Anomura is in its beginning stages and members are just starting to look at possibilities.

“This is now kind of a twinkle in the eye of the Anomura society,” he said. “The idea of finding residual land on a temporary basis, on a leased basis, is the fundamental premise of trying to achieve affordable housing in a way that isn’t tied to the most expensive aspect of it — which is usually the land.”

A lot of land that could be used is on the periphery of all kinds of institutional sites, D’Ambrosio said.

He said initiatives similar to Anomura have sprung up in other places.

School district secretary-treasurer Mark Walsh said the district has established a precedent for having housing on its property with the recent approval of a residential complex for moderate-income families on the grounds of the former Burnside Elementary School.

“We are making sure that we as an administration are fulfilling our mandate to the education program,” Walsh said. “But I think certainly our board is open to the idea of being part of the solution to the housing crisis, as the Burnside deal indicates.”

A report to the school board said one of the Anomura proposals seems workable. Both school board and municipal approval would be required.

No specific locations have been identified, Walsh said. “Until the board says: ‘This is something that we’re interested in,’ we’re not even going to suggest sites,” he said. “What we suggested is if the board is interested, administration can come back with a number of locations that may have a small amount of land available at the corners, that kind of thing.”

Walsh said the district would receive rent payments.

The modular units can be different sizes and include two to three bedrooms, D’Ambrosio said. “The idea would be to fully integrate them so that it’s seamless.”

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