A supportive housing complex in Downtown Los Angeles rises in repurposed shipping containers

A supportive housing complex in Downtown Los Angeles rises in repurposed shipping containers

It might be hard to tell at first that the permanent housing units were built from former shipping containers (Paul Vu)

The Hilda L. Solis Care First Village (HSCFV), a large-scale interim housing project providing a wide range of amenities for both the unhoused and those in transition, recently opened in Downtown Los Angeles.

“What once was supposed to be a staging area to build a new Men’s Central Jail will now serve as a safe space to address the housing, mental and behavioral health needs of our residents experiencing homelessness,” Hilda L. Solis, the Los Angeles County Supervisor that initiated the housing project in September of last year, said in an official statement. “I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish, and that is re-imagining Los Angeles County with steps toward our commitment towards realizing a Care First, Jail Last model.”

In collaboration with the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works, Solis selected Bernards, a local employee-owned construction management company, as the builder of HSCFV and local firm NAC Architecture as the principal designer. The campus provides housing for a wide range of services for the city’s unhoused population across four acres of former parking lots near Union Station, the city’s largest public transportation hub. The two main buildings on the campus each contain 132 units of permanent housing, Each unit features a private bath, as opposed to the bunk-style set up more commonly seen in recent similar projects, and is fitted with individual heating and ventilation systems as a means of reducing the spread of COVID on-site. The several trailers across the site are designated for interim housing, while an administrative building centralizes several residential services, such as dining and laundry, as well as support service offices that include case management and counseling. The space in between the buildings is landscaped with facilities for a dog park, as many residents are likely to bring their pets.

Exterior photo of a supportive housing complex, the Hilda L. Solis Care First Village
The entire Hilda L. Solis Care First Village was completed in under five months, a markedly shorter construction timeline than other housing projects in the city (Paul Vu)

“This project, to me, demonstrates that the greater needs of our population extend far beyond traditional thoughts of what infrastructure may be,” explained Bernards’ vice president Mike Funderberg. “Public Housing for those unhoused individuals on our streets, coupled with a long-term focus on ancillary services—such as mental and behavioral healthcare, which encompass true comprehensive redirection of the growing population of individuals experiencing homelessness—are long absent and much-needed infrastructure projects for our modern times.”

Beyond the fact that the project is now a center for a number of valuable social services to the city’s unhoused population, HSCFV is novel for the remarkable efficiency that went into its construction. At a cost of only $86,000 per permanent bed, work at the site began on October 11 of last year and took less than five months to complete; a construction timeline virtually unprecedented in the history of housing projects in Los Angeles of this scale. These figures were made possible through the transformation of shipping containers into prefabricated modular units as the primary building envelope for the permanent housing units. Bernards subcontracted VESTA Modular, a full-service modular general contractor with offices across the country, to subdivide 66 shipping containers into permanent housing units before stacking them on site, where their bright orange facades would later be softened by the crisp white walkways and staircases that surround them. The rest of the village is comprised of prefabricated modular units and mobile units that were designed to meet the specific demands of the site.

Inside of a supportive housing tiny room
Each permanent housing unit is equipped with its own private bath and heating and cooling system (Paul Vu)

Bringing the initial estimated project cost of $57 million down to $48 million—$3 million less than the total amount given to the project through federal Coronavirus relief funding via the CARES Act—the successful use of shipping containers and other prefabricated structures at the Hilda L. Solis Care First Village suggests that this building technique might be seen more commonly in future affordable housing projects around the country.