Pods power Kenton Women's Village
Bremik Construction has become a common name in the world of affordable housing in the Portland metro area. The company, as general contractor, has been attached to more than a few large-scale projects designed to provide housing options for people who make significantly less than median income.
But the company recently had a chance to help create a different kind of step on the path to affordable housing for one specific segment of Portland's population.
Bremik was one of 21 teams representing Portland-area commercial and residential construction companies that signed up to help build sleeping pods for the new location of Kenton Women's Village, which offers transitional housing and services for homeless women.
The teams participating in the Kenton Women's Village Pod Building Challenge spent March and the first few days of April constructing one of three basic pod designs and then adding their own touches. The results of those efforts were unveiled during a celebration on April 5 that included the presentation of awards in categories such as most innovative use of materials and best of show.
The friendly competition offered more than bragging rights for the builders, though. The challenge also offered a rare opportunity for companies that often find themselves bidding for similar projects to come together, united by a common goal.
"For everyone, I think it's all about providing a home for someone," said Todd Duwe, Bremik's vice presidend. "There are all the different levels of affordable housing. This is really the first step from being homeless to moving along that continuum."
Kenton Women's Village opened in the Kenton Neighborhood in 2017 on a piece of property on North Argyle Street owned by what is now Prosper Portland. Supported by several agencies and organizations, the Village started as a one-year, small-focus project with 14 sleeping pods to help homeless women begin the transition of moving off the streets and eventually into permanent affordable housing.
In addition to having a place to sleep and store their belongings — each house featured a locking door — the women had access to a community kitchen and shower facilities as well as services such as case management, employment assistance and access to physical and mental health care provided through a nonprofit organization called Catholic Charities of Oregon.
With the unanimous support of residents of Kenton, the Village began to move into its second year in the spot on Argyle in June 2018. However, at the end of that summer, Prosper Portland announced the land the Village was using was needed for an affordable housing project set to break ground in early 2019.
A search began to find a new home for the Women's Village. Kenton neighborhood residents voiced support for keeping the community in the area, with land belonging to the city of Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services identified as the new home of the Village.
Even though the new spot was a just a few blocks away, at the corner of North Columbia Boulevard and Argyle, the location needed work. LMC Construction, assisted by students from building industry programs that included the Northwest College of Construction, volunteered to prepare the site, including laying new concrete pads for the pods.
Village administrators, however, determined that only seven of the original pods featured workable designs that could be used at the new site, leaving the Village short by more than a dozen pods. That's when the idea for the Pod Building Challenge began to take shape.
Companies interested in participating in the Kenton Women's Village Pod Building Challenge came together at the beginning of February to learn details about the effort. The Challenge focused on three designs created by SRG Partnership, ScottArchitecture and Portland State University's Center for Innovative Design. The teams taking part in the challenge were each assigned a design.
Catholic Charities, which operates the Women's Village, will be the party handling any future repairs of the pods once the structures are put in place. So, while teams participating in the Challenge agreed to provide most of the materials needed to build their pods, there were some materials and features that needed to be consistent. All of the doors and windows for the pods, for example, are the same, a contribution from Oregon-based manufacturer JELD-WEN.
Teams were encouraged, however, to add their own innovative touches. They spent the first few weeks procuring materials, tapping suppliers and partners in the building community for donations and contributions.
For R&H Construction, tasked with building the "Catalyst" design from ScottArchitecture, adding an innovative touch meant working with suppliers like the Closet Factory to create lots of drawers, shelves and cupboard space for storage of personal materials. The team also added a planter and trellis to the outside porch area to provide a sense of individuality and privacy for the future tenant.
R&H has an in-house committee made up of employees that vets community-service projects to make sure they align with the areas the company has identified as focuses for its volunteer efforts, Marissa Essex, a project assistant, said.
The team assembled its pod in a donated space near the company's new headquarters in Northwest Portland, a location that allowed staff members to come in early or stay late after a work day, or spend lunch breaks, working on the project.
The fact that the R&H pod was destined to become part of Kenton Women's Village held special meaning for Essex, who helped build the structure.
"(The Village) is in my neighborhood, so this is near and dear to my heart," she said.
At Bremik Construction, the company chooses a new project each quarter for its employees to work on to give back to the community. Because of the company's focus on affordable housing, many of those company-wide volunteer efforts are connected to that concept, Alexi Meuwissen, Bremik's director of marketing, said.
With that in mind, the company felt it fitting that the Pod Challenge for the Kenton Women's Village would be its first volunteer effort for 2019, according to Duwe and Meuwissen.
Bremik was handed the Catalyst design and took a walk on the sustainable side by reusing high-quality siding left over from a recent project and then adding elements donated by suppliers such as Pioneer Sheet Metal, Pacific Lumber Resources and Stoner Electric that would offer durability.
"The material we chose for the exterior are lower maintenance: hardy siding, a sheet metal roof," Duwe said. "From a constructability standpoint, it is a very well-designed and well-built pod. It's super sturdy. This thing is going to last for years."
The company also decided to create an environment where a new occupant could walk in and feel instantly at home. In addition to including shelves and spaces to store personal items, Bremik's team added artwork with inspiring messages and images. The team also outfitted their pod with bedding, black-out shades for privacy and an inventory of toiletries.
When the pod-building teams came together on April 5 to add the last touches to their structures before the awards presentation, Bremik was joined by students from Constructing Hope, a pre-apprenticeship program. The company also plans to meet with the program's students at a later time to discuss how the pod came together.
"We'll be using it as a learning opportunity for (them)," Duwe said.
Home sweet homebuilding
While more than half of the companies involved in the Pod Challenge were from the commercial construction sector, local homebuilding companies also came to the table. Taking the lead in that effort was the Home Builders Foundation, an arm of the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland that focuses on building and repairing housing for the homeless as well as for other community groups.
When Brenda Ketah, the foundation's executive director, heard about the Pod Challenge, she decided to drum up support for the event at a general meeting for the HBA's 2019 Street of Dreams. In the end, the Home Builders Foundation and the HBA ended up with nine teams. Two of those teams, one sponsored by Legend Homes and the other by Stephens Homes, were made up of members of the HBA's Professional Women in Building Council. Another company, DR Horton, had four teams build pods.
Ketah's presentation at the Street of Dreams meeting brought both the Kenton Women's Village and the Pod Challenge to the attention of homebuilder Natalie Long.
Long and Jaime Harris started Elite Development Northwest, a women-owned firm that usually focuses on luxury homes, in 2006. For the Pod Challenge, Long and Harris tapped their subcontractors and suppliers for help with both materials for the pod and the actual construction.
They livened up their basic "Pop Up" pod design by adding distinctive touches such as a place for the occupant to sit and eat along with plenty of space for storing clothes and personal items.
Another unique touch in the Elite Development sleeping pod was a mural painted by an artist friend on the wall above the bed.
"We're hoping this gives whomever gets to live here a place to come and heal and feel safe," Long said. "I think that's pretty important as a woman."
Andersen Construction Foundation and Andersen Construction, which built a pod, volunteered time and resources to move all of the pods and get them situated at the new Village location.
Thirteen of the pods were slated to become shelters in the new Village. The rest will be used for additional homeless villages that Catholic Charities is planning to open in the future, Ketah said.
Even with the new pods now in place, though, there is still be work to be done in order to bring the village to full occupancy. Support areas, including a community kitchen and bathroom facilities, need to be built. Ketah's group is working with Catholic Charities to see how the Foundation may be able to help get the second phase finished so that women can start to move into the new pods.
"We're just looking at what our options are for the next phase," Ketah said.
Twenty-one teams representing local commercial and residential building companies volunteered time, expertise and materials to build sleeping pods as part of the 2019 Kenton Women's Village Pod Building Challenge:
BC Custom Construction*
Lease Crutcher Lewis
Skanska USA Building
Pop Out Design
DR Horton 2 *
DR Horton 3 *
Professional Women in Building (sponsored by Legend Homes)*
Associated General Contractors/ NW College of Construction
DR Horton 1*
DR Horton 4*
O'Neill/ Walsh Community Builders
Professional Women in Building (sponsored by Stephens Homes)*
*A team organized through the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland and the Home Builders Foundation
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