Sterling Bay plans to build modular housing on more than 100 vacant lots from Skender factory opening today

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A rendering shows how Skender's modular housing, seen as the third and fourth three-flat buildings from the right, looks like when assembled. (Skender)

It’s an ambitious initiative that combines plans to build affordable housing, while capturing the emerging trend towards modular construction.

Developer Sterling Bay says it will build housing on more than 100 vacant lots in Chicago’s South and West Sides. Skender will manufacture sections of the buildings from a new Little Village area assembly line.

The initiative could solve two problems at the same time: Overcoming the shortage of skilled construction labour, while creating affordable housing in a city that has grown increasingly expensive.

The Chicago Tribune reports that most of the buildings will be affordable three-flats on vacant lots, which the developer is in the process of acquiring from the city and other owners.

Sterling Bay also is investing in Skender’s modular business, and the firms said they plan to ramp up production in the Southwest Side factory at in the coming years, the newspaper reported.

“It’s at the tipping point and I think you’re going to see it absolutely explode,” Sterling Bay CEO Andy Gloor said of the modular building industry.

The factory at 3348 S. Pulaski Rd. begins operating today (May 28) with 35 employees in an agreement with the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters. It will grow to 150 union workers within the next year and a half, with some functions (such as welding) automated.

Lifted by cranes, the 25,000- to 35,000-pound modular pieces are delivered to the job site and connected horizontally and vertically to form entire buildings.

Skender estimates its modular construction process can reduce project costs by as much as 20 per cent. The units can be stacked to 12 stories — with the potential to go much higher.

“We didn’t invent modular, but we’re perfecting it,” the Tribune quoted Pete Murray, Skender’s president of manufacturing, as saying.

Sterling Bay’s initial phase of 10 buildings will be constructed on vacant lots throughout Ald. Walter Burnett’s 27th Ward in the next several months, Gloor said. The first three-flat will be built at 640 N. Ridgeway Ave. in the East Garfield Park neighborhood, according to Sterling Bay.

The developer also plans a larger residential project — a seven-story, 83-unit building — to be built early next year on a lot along the Kennedy Expressway at 1100 W. Grand Ave, the Tribune reported.

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