Are modular homes the answer to Bay Area's affordable housing demand? | January 29, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 29, 2021

Are modular homes the answer to Bay Area's affordable housing demand?

Inside the latest chapter in one pastor's bid to solve the region's housing crisis

by Lloyd Lee

Two steel houses were delivered on the back of a big rig on Jan. 7 to a parking lot in East Palo Alto, one coming all the way from Pueblo, Colorado, and the other from Caldwell, Idaho. They're not exactly ready-to-live-in homes, but in a few weeks, possibly by Valentine's Day or earlier, they can be.

This story contains 1284 words.

Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.

If you are already a member, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Membership starts at $12 per month and may be cancelled at any time.

Log in     Join

Editorial Assistant Lloyd Lee can be emailed at


Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 29, 2021 at 12:02 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

Again. The production solutions of housing is fundamentally wrong. Modular home / classrooms are environmentally toxic, temporary solutions. There is a major seismic (Earthquake fault line) in the Bay Area . Cost of living, essential skilled jobs and population growth AND infrastructure (upgrades to wastewater plants, train tracks) issues abound. Along with climate change. Another empty, Much ADU about nothing. We can no longer back space w a delete button, here.

Can you imagine Palo Alto embracing modular home sites??? Example: the mean spirited nature against keeping Buena Vista mobile home, RV living on ECR. Again. Nice try but a big, fat NO! Treating housing like tin cans , kicked down road...

Posted by Context matters.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2021 at 1:14 pm

Context matters. is a registered user.

We need to make more productive use of land. How about condominiums?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 29, 2021 at 1:49 pm

Resident is a registered user.

The cost is in the land. If we want to make a dent in our ABAG deficit, especially while retaining public and wild green spaces, we need dense apartments and not modular homes or even tiny houses or RV parks. We need to minimize private land use.

Posted by R. Cavendish
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2021 at 2:33 pm

R. Cavendish is a registered user.

terrific concept. a modular home tract would be similar to a mobile home park.

it could provide housing for the homeless population as well as for those who cannot afford conventional residencies.

location would be the primary criteria and issue, where to develop these tracts and how much private yard space would they be afforded?

they actually look better than some of the older homes in Palo Alto.

Posted by Steve Raney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2021 at 3:27 pm

Steve Raney is a registered user.

So great to see Pastor Bains taking visionary "social entrepreneur" leadership. I'll take 1% credit for putting together the May 2018 tour of Vallejo's Factory OS union-built modular home factory. And Elaine Uang should snag 1% credit for inviting Bains. On that tour, you could see his large brain imagining the possibilities. He had already identified the Bay Road parcel where he wanted the factory. He had extended conversations w/ Factory OS staff (they have a Bridge and Eden affordable housing executive lineage).

One modular housing application is massively-scalable, affordable, carfree housing: Web Link preferably located new to transit and the middle of a walkable downtown.

Of note, Google's John Igoe catalyzed the creation of Factory OS.

Everyone can agree that using modular construction to create crappy housing is bad. But modular developers are really creative with use of space. Patrick Kennedy is a pioneer: Web Link You can check out his 8' x 20' MicroPAD at 1321 Mission St in SF. 1321 itself has 160 microunits, 0 cars, 0 car parking, 180 bikes. It is 11 stories and 120’ high with a density of 761 housing units per acre. Kennedy leased all 160 units before construction completed. Before the Factory OS tour, we brought Patrick Kennedy to PA's Institute for the Future to lead a seminar.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 30, 2021 at 4:20 pm

Resident is a registered user.

Tall modular is fine. Single-story as in this article is not. New residents have to get past the appeal of having a yard and green space of their own if we are going to align housing with jobs. All new construction should be required to be four stories or more. All spare land is going to be needed to meet the needs of our new residents: quality recreation, spacious schooling, multi-modal transportation, and more. Single family homes are quickly becoming an anachronism. As long as we do the work to maintain ample public spaces, nature preserves, and greenery throughout our developments it won't be so bad. It won't be cheap. But it can be done. IMO this is hard to swallow since it is a big change for our city, but I don't see a way around it.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 30, 2021 at 5:05 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Resident - yes it is a big swallow. Note that the original meeting was in Vallejo. That is a place with a lot of available land. A good place for this type venture. So why does everything translate into a MUST for Palo Alto? I am really trying to figure out why residents of this city keep trying to manipulate everyone else into some concept which is backwards of what we are doing.

Real estate agents fill the pages of the papers with homes for sale. They are selling a home in a neighborhood. That is what our economy is working on. So why do people sitting in their own homes reimagine what is suppose to happen to everyone else and their homes?

And what new residents are you talking about? Are you part of some group that sponsors people coming over the border?

Sorry - do not get the why's and how's that someone who is a resident of this city is thinking up how to destroy the very essence of the city. Just move to wherever it looks like what you think it is suppose to look like. We live here because it looks like how we want to live.

Posted by Steve Raney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2021 at 7:29 pm

Steve Raney is a registered user.

What's great is Pastor Bain's:
* brain making connections between things to come up with this innovative concept,
* his compassion,
* his ability to weave together the relationships to get this project going,
* his energy and ambition.
This is no small accomplishment.

Per Web Link this type of housing is illegal in most cities including Palo Alto. This type of housing won't come unless a city welcomes it:
a) get a blue-ribbon commission to check this housing out in other locations and tour Factory OS
b) make this housing type legal,
c) a city should secure parcel(s) and then change zoning for this housing type.
There's no way to sneak this type of housing into a city that doesn't want it.

The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (Web Link was invented by Ward Connerly. RHNA creates new housing allocations for cities to fulfill. Residents often want to see the impacts of new housing mitigated. For a city like Palo Alto, affordable, car-free microunits might represent "maximally-mitigated" new housing:
* Super-low carbon footprint.
* Improve jobs/housing imbalance.
* Fewest possible number of car trips/traffic.
* Zero parking demand.
* Very high property tax revenue per square foot.
* Increased expenditure at local businesses, increasing retail viability.
* Etc.

I've heard from mid-level public sector staff from another city that this type of housing represents a huge improvement compared to other crappy, expensive, long-commute options.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 31, 2021 at 12:05 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

The city of Palo Alto is built out. What you are not addressing is the infrastructure elements - the sewer connection, plumbing, and water connections. What we are seeing now in this city is older homes being replaced with bigger two story homes. That is what is selling in this city. That is selling in Crescent Park, and that is selling in South PA. This type of housing may work in central valley but I doubt it because they are building like crazy now in the central valley and those are two story homes.
The real estate section of the paper has new housing going up all over the place.
You may view this as an investment but I don't see it for this city. What I see is apartment and condos on El Camino. That is the best use of the land right now. If you read the real estate section of the paper people now are selling and moving out. There is a lot of homes for sale in the city, lots of turnover.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 1, 2021 at 12:08 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Stanford is the biggest land holder and employs the most people in this location. They have an abundance of undeveloped land. This idea could work for them to accommodate some of their workers.

Posted by citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2021 at 2:56 pm

citizen is a registered user.

Modular homes do not have to be crappy and they can eliminate a lot of the waste involved in construction. They can also make it easier for people to put in ADU's.

That said, times have changed, and thus it's time to stop trotting out tired old developer-serving myths like "Single family homes are quickly becoming an anachronism."

The pandemic happened, and what did people do? Move to where they could get some space and quality of life. They didn't say, oh hey, now I can move into a cheaper crappy little human-cage down the street.

Dense building and urban heat sinks have serious insurmountable drawbacks in seismic-prone, drought prone, fire prone areas. Sprawl is bad, too, but that's not what's happened after the pandemic -- a lot of workers moved and are working remotely. Medium-sized towns like Bend that have both reasonably nice housing and civic amenities have been swamped. The state focus should be on creating safety and amenities in this more distributed model because ultimately that's how the most number of people have the most reasonable affordable quality of life. Having gardens is not frivolous, there are numerous environmental, health, and mental health benefits. And given a chance, people will go to where they can have that quality of life.

I really wish the false developer-serving narratives would stop. A mix of different types of housing is good. Treating some people's housing like it's evil in order to bulldoze it and make a lot of money for a few already rich developers is not. And at some point, we have to start thinking about the pollution, noise, invariable traffic, heat sinks, drought, safety, fire, life-cycle-cost, daylight plane, mental health, and other challenges associated with overdeveloping relative to the infrastructure and local natural environment.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 3, 2021 at 11:20 am

Annette is a registered user.

I agree with all the positive comments above. I've no way to assess if the comment about such housing being toxic is correct, but have to believe that can be resolved. I also bet that there either is or could be a two-story option.

I also think that Pastor Bains is promoting the type of housing - single family - that is wisest. Advocates of high-rise, stack and pack housing should consider what Covid has taught us about the disadvantages of such housing. Shared space (elevators, hallways, entry ways, etc) can be highly problematic for both those who reside in those buildings and the greater community. Like it or not, single family residences are healthier. If what Pastor Bains has achieved can be duplicated - even on the land-rich Stanford campus so that those campus employees who are now living in their RV on El Camino can move to a real house - all the better.

Years and years of approving commercial development that resulted in more jobs and demand for housing by people filling those jobs created the enormous and problematic jobs:housing imbalance that we must somehow improve. The development-friendly majority on City Council pretty much ignored pleas to not continue that practice or at least require that new construction be mitigated, housing wise. Also ignored. Then along came Covid and an unexpected consequence: a leveling-off of the demand for housing. Although I cannot provide a statistic (no doubt someone can!) many companies have announced that employees can work from home even after the pandemic crisis is over. FOR LEASE signs, a rare sight in Palo Alto before Covid, are now visible all over town.

I hope those in positions of influence over development are taking Covid impacts into account.

Posted by Mark Dinan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2021 at 8:25 am

Mark Dinan is a registered user.

To the best of my knowledge, this proposal for a new factory in EPA has not gone through any permitting, approval process, environmental impact or any of the other regulations necessary to open an industrial facility in East Palo Alto. I may be wrong about this, but it does seem to be a possible application for a new use for this site at 2020 Bay Road, not a done deal.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 30 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away almost $10 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.