On Sept. 9, the modular home at 647 W. Lawndale Ave., looked almost like two crates stacked on top of each other. Inherent l3c construction workers were busy turning it into something that looked like an actual home.
This is one of the 21 single-family homes that the company is building on the blocks around West Humboldt Park’s Laura S. Ward Elementary School, 646 N. Lawndale Ave. The advantage of the modular homes is that the basic frame can be assembled relatively quickly inside a factory — in this case Will Group’s K-Town Business Centre at 4647 W. Polk St. in Austin — significantly speeding up construction.
Austin Weekly News got the opportunity to see how the house is coming together and talk to some of the workers who are building it. The workers who were interviewed said that they appreciated the diversity of the job site and some of the novelty that comes with building modular homes.
Inherent purchased the lots through the City Lots for Working Families program, which allows developers to buy city-owned land for $1 a lot in return for keeping 75% of the homes they build on that land affordable to residents earning 120% of the average Area Median Income for the Chicago area.
In an earlier interview, Inherent founder Tim Swanson said that that Inherent’s goal isn’t just to bring quality housing to communities, but to help homeowners keep their homes amid a rising tide of gentrification. Their long-term goal is to build similar projects in other communities that haven’t seen much new housing, including East Garfield Park, North Lawndale and Austin, he said.
Inherent spokesperson Walker Thisted said that they are in the early discussions about building modular homes in Austin.
According to the fact sheet provided by the company, each house is a two-story, 1,445-square-foot building with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. While the buildings don’t include garages, the design calls for two parking spaces per lot, with Swanson mentioning that each space will have infrastructure that will allow homeowners to install electric car charging stations.
Each house will also come with several features designed to optimize energy efficiency, as well as systems that monitor energy and water use. Swanson said the regular monitoring will help catch some mechanical issues early, which means quicker and less expensive repairs.
Thisted said that 647 W. Lawndale Ave., is the first of the 21 homes to go up, and they hope to have it ready for a family to move into by Thanksgiving. During the site visit, the kitchen was already complete, but the other rooms were works in progress.
Thisted said that three more houses across the street from Ward Elementary will be next. Work on the house at 639 W. Lawndale Avenue was scheduled to start in late September, with the goal of finishing it up by the end of October. The houses at 611 N. Lawndale will be next, followed by the houses at 645 W. Lawndale Ave. and 643 W. Lawdnale Avenue.
During the site visit, Swanson pointed out that the windows gave a good view of the school.
“Having four single-family homes in front of a school – that’s powerful,” he said.
Thisted said that the response has been positive, with many neighbors taking interest in the lot and expressing appreciation for the fact that the housing will be for families.
Inherent works with the Chicago Women in Trades, Revolution Workshop and CARA Chicago workforce development organizations to hire from the South and West sides. The fact that many of their employees are women, Swanson said, has gotten attention from the community. He recalled a time when a group of female police officers walking around the area stopped by to find out about the project just because it’s something they were not used to seeing.
Jason Roberts, the head carpenter on the project, who lives in the South Side’s Chatham neighborhood, has been in the field since he was a teenager. He said it was his first time working on a construction site with so many women. He said he appreciates that everyone wants to continue learning and improving.
“It makes it a lot easier,” Roberts added.
Shawn Manvel, of South Shore, said he’s been in trades for 15 years. What he was doing wasn’t quite like any construction project he worked on in the past, but he enjoyed the challenge of it.
“When you come in, you don’t know what you’re going to be doing,” he said.
Jamese Brewer said that she lives 10 minutes from the construction site. She said that she saw a Facebook ad posted by Chicago Women in Trades and decided to check the program out. While going through the program, she “just kind of naturally gravitated toward carpentry.” Brewer said she’s happy to be working for Inherent.
“Pay-wise, attitude-wise, I love the environment,” she said. “This is a match made in heaven.”