It’s no secret the Bay Area is in a housing crisis. Escalating rental and sales prices can boggle the mind and keep apartments and homes out of reach for many. But an Oakland developer believes he may have hit upon something big, a solution that is building momentum on Vallejo’s Mare Island.
Factory_OS is the brainchild of Oakland developer Rick Holliday, who believes the housing industry must evolve to survive and meet demand. The region is under a relentless squeeze of high land, construction and permitting costs, a shrinking labor force, a flat housing industry and relentless demand. Factory_OS takes a different approach. Modular units are built and put together in assembly lines and then trucked to a site and put together into three-or four-story buildings much like Legos. The model speeds up construction and reduces building costs by up to 30 percent, Holliday said. That’s just the beginning. The factory’s Housing Innovation Lab will team up with universities and research partners to find other ways to cut costs.
No doubt the word is out on Factory_OS. Hundreds attended the May grand opening event in Mare Island’s historic Building 680, the base’s largest building that served as a submarine and ship machine shop. Following the base’s closure, Blu Homes produced pre-fab homes in the building, but later did not renew its lease. Holliday is excited about Building 680, its size, location and assets, such as cranes and proximity to a deep-water channel.
Since signing it lease last July, Holliday said Factory_OS has taken more than $50 million in orders. Plans are in the works to produce as many as 2,000 units per year and create 150 jobs. The first order of 300 units came from Google in Mountain View. There the median home value is $1.9 million, up 24 percent in the last year, and average workers are hard-pressed to find a place to live.
Local interest is also high. Talks are in preliminary stages with Napa College and California Maritime Academy for student housing, and with Napa, Sonoma and Vallejo on other projects. In Vallejo the median housing value is $402,700, up 13 percent over last year, low by Bay Area standards but still too high for some. The need for housing is strong throughout the Bay Area, but Holliday is pleased Factory_OS set up shop in the Vallejo/Benicia area. “We are really enjoying getting to know Vallejo and Benicia. We feel like we’ve walked into a wonderful community.”