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NYC looks to modular construction as an affordable housing solution

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HPD will seek partners for modular, low-rise buildings

461 Dean Street, the modular building (with affordable units) at Pacific Park in Brooklyn.
Max Touhey

Despite the obvious pros to using modular construction to build affordable housing—units can be assembled off-site, then quickly stacked into place—it’s not a method that has taken off in New York City thus far, despite the well-documented housing crisis. Thus far, only a handful of modular buildings have been built in the five boroughs, with at least one of those—461 Dean Street, the high-rise rental at the Pacific Park megaproject—beset by construction issues and delays.

But the city is hoping to change that: Deputy mayor Alicia Glen tells the Real Deal that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will seek partners to build low-income and senior housing using modular construction, and that the city hopes to “crack the code” when it comes to prefab.

The move to modular is part of the De Blasio administration’s larger Housing New York 2.0 plan, which was unveiled at the end of 2017. Per the plan, the city believes that modular construction can “ significantly reduce development time and cost,” thus making it easier to build affordable housing faster and cheaper. They’re hoping to achieve this in a few ways, including creating smaller micro apartments, a la Carmel Place, and multi-family buildings.

The request for information and interest, which TRD says the agency will release today, relates to the latter; HPD is looking to situate new buildings in areas zoned for low- to mid-rise housing, perhaps on city-owned land. Per TRD, developers could potentially get tax breaks and subsidies for these projects, which the city hopes will “help allay some of the perceived risks around these projects.”

The city has already been working on new modular housing in Staten Island and Queens as part of the beleaguered Build it Back program, though the homes built through that are single-family rather than apartment buildings.

One type of modular the city isn’t looking at right now: taller towers like 461 Dean. “One thing we’ve learned is don’t try to do high rise,” Glen told TRD. “That’s a nut we’ll crack later.”