Sonoma County Habitat for Humanity plans housing factory

Sonoma County needs a lot of affordable homes, and soon it will have a sizable factory dedicated to turning out such housing rain or shine.

Tim Leach, Sonoma County Habitat for Humanity’s new chairman, announced June 7 the nonprofit has signed a three-year lease agreement with SOMO Village, pending a final review by Wells Fargo Bank, for 65,000 square feet of indoor manufacturing and outdoor storage space at 1500 Valley House Drive, Suite 100, Rohnert Park.

Plans call for development of an industrialized residential construction and trades training campus where volunteers supervised by experienced trade workers will build wall panels and other components for 111 new homes by 2021. Timetable of the Habitat Center calls for building key parts for 15 new Habitat homes this year, followed by 36 in 2020, 60 in 2021 - ramping up to an average of 70 homes annually thereafter.

Similar to facilites in Georgia, Colorado, and Edmonton, Canada, the regional Habitat new component factory will have an estimated annual budget of $500,000 and could be self-sustaining in about three years, officials said.

Habitat’s Rohnert Park facility includes 33,500 square feet of interior space on the first floor with high ceilings, two large access doors and loading docks. Another 32,500 square feet of fenced space in the adjacent parking area will be converted to store building materials, supplies and finished panels under an overhanging roof.

This initiative is in addition to five other Habitat home building projects underway or in planning stages at Sonoma Wildfire Cottages (nine homes on Medtronic property for fire survivors); Somerset Place in Santa Rosa (10); Green Valley Village in Graton (two homes started this spring); Duncan Village (groundbreaking in July for 16 affordable homes in Windsor); and Harris Village, a four-home subdivision in Santa Rosa completed in March.

For Harris Village, the nonprofit used manufactured wall panels fabricated by Habitat for Humanity construction staff and volunteers during a successful test-of-concept trial of this technique.

Habitat has more than 300 other homes in various pre-development stages at sites in Healdsburg, Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and in the Larkfield/Wikiup area, representing half of its 600-home target for 2025.

“Compared with most conventional stick-building construction methods - that involves putting everything together on site - this process places us on the brink of revolutionary change that includes software-drive design incorporated into advanced construction technology applied before sitework begins to accelerate the development timetable,” said Tim Leach, who became chairman of Habitat’s Board of Directors on May 1. “The future of building is here. We’re creating innovative homes for humanity.”

Leach said The Habitat Center’s innovative methods are aimed at driving down cost curves by increasing efficiency.

A key element that will further reduce housing costs involves the use of volunteers engaged in manufactured wall construction. Volunteers come to Habitat from faith-based community congregations, corporate volunteers, donor groups, and as retired individuals with the time and skill sets Habitat needs, as well as experienced construction industry personnel with supervisory and training skills.

Habitat’s SoMo Village factory will also serve as a training site for the next generation of young people seeking to enter construction trades in the North Bay. Furthermore, Santa Rosa Junior College construction program students will attend classes and obtain hands-on experience at Habitat’s factory beginning with the 2019 fall semester. High school seniors in the North Coast Builder’s Exchange North Bay Construction Corps Boot Camp training program for construction workers will also receive real-world experience at The Habitat Center.

A preopening celebration is being planned at The Habitat Center on June 21 from 4:30 to 7:00 p.m., including the 2019 North Bay Construction Corps Graduation (at 4:30) followed by The Habitat Center preview.

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