Can 3D technology help solve the affordable housing crisis?

Even before the pandemic, finding an affordable housing solution in rural Eastern Ontario was a challenge for those of limited means. In this article, The flow examines some of the options our elected officials have been considering and highlights others they may want to consider. Affordable housing is essential to the growth of rural municipalities. In addition, low-cost housing is urgently needed to attract:

  • Workers, often from young families, who provide labor to local businesses and spend their paychecks in the community
  • Seniors trying to live close to family or stay in a familiar community after downsizing
  • Homeless individuals and families
  • People who have physical or mental challenges but are able to live independently

Secondary housing limited by existing zoning and regulations of the code

In Ontario, a second dwelling must be a self-contained dwelling with a private kitchen, bathroom facilities and bedrooms. It can be inside an existing dwelling or built as a separate self-contained unit. The “Granny Flat” solution, an annex for an elderly member of the family, seems to be a solution. But municipal zoning requirements have not kept pace with housing needs in the province, as Tim Hudak, CEO of the Ontario Real Estate Association, points out below.

Source: Opportunities for rural Ontario in a post-COVID world, ROMs

small houses

Smaller homes, typically under 300 square feet and often mobile and/or off-grid, might be a great fit for those with limited means in a rural setting. Here in the Ottawa Valley, a house with wheels was traditionally used as a recreational toy – for vacations, hunting, fishing – and was not seen as an opportunity to provide more residences, thus increasing the municipal tax base. Additionally, Ontario Building Code compliance requirements as well as local zoning regulations do not always align with the tiny home concept, or even with developments of tiny modular homes or housing made from shipping containers. that could address specific social needs such as homelessness.

Cooperative Housing Model – Habitat for Humanity

The cooperative option; that is, a housing model where volunteers donate their labor and materials to work alongside people of limited means, is clearly viable. Helped by volunteers, future owners contribute at least 200 hours of their own labor to the process of building their own home. Habitat for Humanity Ontario Gateway North is based in Bracebridge and has successfully completed a number of projects in Muskoka where (as here) local people of limited means are excluded from the housing market.

The future is now — 3D printed homes

Thanks to the latest technology and some luxurious show homes, 3D printed homes were perceived to be far from affordable – until now. In 2021, people all over the world started moving into 3D printed homes. The brief video from the World Economic Forum below shows that the speed of 3D printing technology can be scaled to the rapid production of simple, low-cost homes.

Source: World Economic Forum, YouTube

Building and installing the 3D printing equipment itself can be the most expensive part of the process. Once this is in place, the actual impression of the walls can happen faster than traditional building techniques, as shown in the video. But like traditional concrete mixes, concrete additive or “paste” can only be poured within a specific temperature range, which Ontario builders already understand.

Cooperative constructions using 3D technology

In the United States, Habitat for Humanity has gone a step further by adopting new construction techniques using 3D printing. Just before Christmas, a family from Williamsburg, Virginia moved into their 1,200 square foot. 3D printed house that, apart from its exterior concrete walls, looks like a traditionally built house. See photo above: Facebook/Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg

A Habitat for Humanity project much closer to home is underway near Windsor, Ontario, where 3D printing company Twente Additive Manufacturing is developing industrial-grade 3D printers. Recently, Twente took one of its 3D printing robots, a towering 2.7-ton device, to the University of Windsor. In Leamington this winter, the school and Habitat for Humanity Windsor-Essex are partnering to use technology to build four small, affordable rental homes. “This, I think, is going to be a game-changing project both locally and for the whole country,” said Fiona Coughlin, executive director and CEO of the local Habitat chapter. See more here:

Here in Ontario

Steve Clark speaks at ROMA 2022. Source: YouTube

The province speaks housing: In January, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, hosted a housing summit for “big city” stakeholders, followed by a roundtable on housing for rural stakeholders, including the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA). Clark said in his address, “The key to building more houses is to build more houses faster.” The press release issued by the province after the roundtable said that Ontario’s Housing Affordability Task Force was expected to report in early 2022.

ROMA report: In anticipation of a time when our lives will no longer be dominated by Covid, ROMA (including Madawaska Valley Mayor’s Board Member Kim Love) commissioned a study titled Opportunities for Rural Ontario in a Post- COVID World. Love provided it to the MV board at their committee meeting on February 1 and asked board members to come prepared to discuss it in April. She said it demonstrated that the rural contribution to the province’s economy is intertwined with that of urban centres. Saying they all revolve around affordable housing, she listed the main themes of the report:

  • Digital connectivity
  • Housing affordability
  • Access to services
  • Workforce development

Innovation is one of the elements deemed necessary in the ROMA report and elsewhere. The question is whether all levels of Ontario’s bureaucracy will come together to deliver new zoning and building rules to allow new technologies to be adopted quickly enough for the province to meet its urgent housing needs. .