Many challenges to providing temporary housing
For 20 years, as he commuted to his IT company in San Francisco, Dan Bodner noticed a Bay Area-wide problem that seemed to only get worse and worse: homelessness.
“I was just thinking about why there was nothing being done to address the problem,” he told the Argus-Courier recently. As he pondered the issue, Bodner “kept circling back to this idea of some kind of quickly deployable housing.”
Perhaps, he thought, he could design and sell a temporary living space – something small, functional, portable, and easy to assemble and disassemble.
So the self-described builder and problem-solver followed in the footsteps of other Bay Area innovators, by building a prototype of his idea in his garage.
Bodner then partnered with an architect, Tim Craig, who modified and formalized the design. Feeling they had an idea worth launching, the pair founded QuickHaven, a Rohnert Park-based company that sells small, easy-to-assemble cabins for use as temporary housing. Bodner is QuickHaven’s CEO, while Craig is chief architect and design officer.
To staff the growing company, they tapped into a highly dedicated, and uniquely qualified, workforce.
“Our first employee was a homeless person that was referred to us by word of mouth. And that was always our intention,” Bodner said. “We bring in people that want to improve their lives, but have experienced some hardships. And it’s very rewarding.”
“They’re very dedicated to the mission,” he added. “And they feel (they are) helping people like themselves.”
“They do take a lot of pride” in their work, agreed Tom Hasser, QuickHaven’s production manager. “And they were very distraught when they heard about the water (issue). … They know people who are just chomping at the bit to get into these units.”
The water issue Hasser referred to came to light on Jan. 10, when a few residents of the People’s Village – a cluster of more than two-dozen QuickHaven cabins located behind the Mary Isaak Center on Hopper Street – said their units had leaked during recent rains.
At the time, some residents claimed the problem was widespread, and that it had led to mold. (Argus-Courier reporters were unable to confirm the full extent of the leaks before being asked to leave by COTS, which operates People’s Village.) But Bodner and Hasser emphasized that any leaking was the result of incomplete assembly, such as failing to seal electrical boxes with gaskets, and failing to put final caulking on roof seams – both steps that are called for by QuickHaven.
The 25 units, along with two more units used as offices, were purchased from QuickHaven by the city for $338,000. Each 72-square-foot unit was assembled by the city and furnished by COTS with a bed and portable heater. Final assembly of the units was completed late last spring.
Bodner said QuickHaven’s team would have liked to provide guidance to the city during the assembly process, “but we were disallowed from even being there.”
“A licensed contractor was on site; we were actually prohibited from being on site,” he said.
Although state law required that assembly of the cabins at People’s Village was done by licensed contractors, “The city paid QuickHaven to provide onsite training to ensure (the) units were properly assembled” said City Manager Peggy Flynn. Furthermore, she said, “QuickHaven assembled the first five units and we discovered at that time that the weatherstripping was not installed, and had to have our contractor rebuild those units to ensure the weatherization was properly installed.”
“As with any pilot program there are always lessons learned, and the city and its partners equally own those,” Flynn said.
Regarding mold concerns, “I’m not aware of any mold, anywhere,” Bodner said. “The mold as far as I know … is not from the units. The units are steel-skinned, and impermeable.”
The People’s Village was QuickHaven’s first big sale – and those units are the first deployment of their product. Unfortunately, Bodner said, skyrocketing materials costs meant the final sale price – at about $12,500 per unit – was “way, way less than it costs to make them.”
“We wanted to get a project under our belt. And we were in early stages of production,” he explained. But “our costs more than doubled” between bidding and production due to inflation and COVID-disrupted supply lines.
Another challenge Bodner did not anticipate is simple bureaucracy: “Dealing with municipalities and counties and all that is complicated and difficult. And those are our main clients,” he said.
And he noted that the people occupying these temporary dwellings often “do not have a lot of adult life experience living inside. That’s a tough population” to house. Examples from the People’s Village included one resident who always keeps her door open, no matter how hard the rain is coming down.
Despite the challenges, QuickHaven remains confident in its product, which company leaders say is ideal for any temporary housing needs, from homelessness to disaster relief.
“Our units can be assembled in one to two hours, basically from scratch,” Bodner said. When not needed, they can be packed away and stored for future use.
QuickHaven hasn’t marketed its product for disaster relief yet – “We’re still getting our footing, we’re a fledgling company,” Bodner said – but they have their hands full just trying to provide temporary shelters for the chronically unhoused. The founder and CEO said he always knew that wouldn’t be simple.
“If was easy, it would have been done by now.”
Don Frances is editor of the Petaluma Argus-Courier. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.