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Community Voices: Solve the housing crisis with steel SIPs




The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' indoor training facility was built using steel SIPs. File photo.

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St. Petersburg needs 1,000 affordable housing units each year for next 10 years.

Is building them a possibility? Has such a buildout ever been accomplished? Who did it? How was it done? And how were they made “affordable?” One thousand houses in a year is four per day. It currently takes a conventional house builder of wood frame construction seven months to build a house and its average price is $374,900 – not too affordable for workforce people.

Lt. William Levitt, a veteran of WWII, made housing “affordable” for his fellow returning veterans. He built 140,000 such houses in record time – at his peak, 16 minutes per house. So, what was his “secret?” He copied Henry Ford’s assembly line method: Mass production of product and assembly-line execution.

The St. Petersburg affordable housing crisis should be looked upon as an opportunity. A study conducted by graduate students from the Harvard Kennedy School found nearly half of St. Pete renters are cost-burdened. It also found about 69% of renters who make 50% or less than the area median income spend more than half that income on rent.

The county currently has five housing authorities with wait lists anywhere from two to five years. Even city employees, some of whom are required to live within the city limits, said they’re struggling to stay housed. And in Pinellas County there’s an estimated shortage of 54,000 affordable housing units.

As one of the steps to alleviate this affordable housing crisis City Council reduced the minimum lot size for an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) to 4,500 sq. ft. in three areas, thus making 9,617 more ADU affordable lots available – and thereby eliminating construction land cost. This was done in order to encourage local affordable housing construction, to keep workforce people near where they work.

So why aren’t conventional builders jumping at the opportunity to build them? Conventional builders find little incentive in building “affordable” housing for two reasons: They see little profit margin in building small “affordable” houses, and they resist the added rules when building ADUs. (During the same amount of time they can make more money building luxury homes – and without the hassle.)

Consequently, only 60 new house permits are pulled each year to build affordable housing in St. Pete -far from the needed 1,000. Could this attitude be contributing to the crisis? Costs are out of range for the average workforce person. Could this problem be tied to the way we build?

The best (and fastest) residential building system, we believe, is building with steel SIPs (structural insulated panels), a technology generally unknown to the populace. These are mainly used for building walk-in cold storage and commercial buildings, like the 100,000 sq. ft. Buccaneer Training Facility at One Buc Place in Tampa. The Glazer family chose steel SIPs because they are so well-insulated and strong to resist storms.

Seems like a good reason to use them to build houses, doesn’t it?

Levitt broke down the construction of a home into 26 separate steps. This resulted in faster and lower pricing for all subcontracted work. At his peak he was completing a suburban house in 16 minutes.

Having an SIP workshop in South St. Pete will enable speedy delivery of SIP packages to approved areas within a short drive, cutting down on fuel costs and wasted delivery time – major causes of inflation. (There are 9,617 more ADU affordable lots recently made available in So. St. Pete waiting for backyard homes to be built on them). And thousands of workforce people waiting for affordable housing close to work. We can’t delay. We need to get to work supplying them. We can build them fast and inexpensively using this technology and these methods.

Collectively, these actions will “guarantee” that these high-tech homes are made “affordable.” The need is evident, and the City has paved the way with its changes on ADU lot size. It remains to pick a solution to get going as soon as possible to show our people we’re on top of this.

Time is of the essence. Workforce people are hurting, waiting.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Carl Hebinck

    June 14, 2022at9:22 am

    Thank you for helping to move this project along. We need all the help we can get to get the City to address this.

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