Modular build keeps affordable housing project on track

P.E.I. Housing Minister Matthew MacKay, MP Sean Casey, CMHA P.E.I. executive director Shelley Muzika, and CMHA P.E.I. treasurer Jamie Arsenault stand outside 203 Fitzroy Street, a modular building with 28 units. (Steve Bruce/CBC - image credit)
P.E.I. Housing Minister Matthew MacKay, MP Sean Casey, CMHA P.E.I. executive director Shelley Muzika, and CMHA P.E.I. treasurer Jamie Arsenault stand outside 203 Fitzroy Street, a modular building with 28 units. (Steve Bruce/CBC - image credit)

Officials say that a modular build was key to keeping a new affordable housing complex in downtown Charlottetown on time and close to budget — and that Islanders can expect more projects like it.

The 28-unit building, at 203 Fitzroy Street, was officially completed Thursday. It is run by the Canadian Mental Health Association and each unit will rent for under $800 month to Islanders with mental health or addictions issues. Fifteen of the units are specifically meant for women.

"To be able to have this type of housing for people at this level of rent, with the cost of construction today, it's difficult," said Shelley Muzika, the executive director of CMHA P.E.I. "I know why private developers have to charge higher rents. They have to cover their own costs."

The project cost roughly $11.5 million. Of that, $7.9 million came from the Government of Canada through the Rapid Housing Initiative. CMHA also received a capital grant of $2 million and annual operating grants in the total amount of $2.8 million over 20 years from the province.

"That's why these incentives are so important.  We need to make sure the numbers do make sense for the developers and landlords to able to do this," said Matthew MacKay, P.E.I.'s housing minister.

Steve Bruce/CBC
Steve Bruce/CBC

'Modulars are so key'

The building went up in 13 months and stayed relatively on budget, despite the rising cost of materials and the major labour shortage facing the construction industry.

Many of the parts were constructed in a factory in New Brunswick, and just pieced together here.

Craig Mitchell, project manager with 720 Solutions, says with modular builds, the prices are locked in well in advance and the projects can be completed faster and with fewer people.

"A factory has a lot more control over their labour force," he said. "They come to work every day, they work in particular stations … and then here on site, we need only a smaller crew here to stitch the units together."

MacKay says as the P.E.I. government sets out to build hundreds of public housing units and subsidize other developments, he expects many of them to be modular.

"We're approximately 1400 units short Island wide, we know we need more units, and that's why the modulars are so key," he said. "Our department is working with every … modular company in Atlantic Canada right now to see what some of the options are. Right now, with such a shortage of workers in our construction industry it's another option for us."