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Legislature slated $5 million to go to mass timber modular housing prototypes

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - The main terminal at Portland International Airport is made from mass timber, the same type of material that will be used to make modular housing prototypes at Marine Terminal 2, a project that recently received millions in funding.Mass timber — engineered wood like glulam and cross-laminated timber — is an emerging industry in Oregon that is getting a big boost this new year.

In a Dec. 13 special session, the Oregon Legislature approved $5 million for the Port of Portland and Hacienda Community Development Corporation to build prototypes of modular housing units made entirely from mass timber.

Additionally, the Port and the Oregon Mass Timber Coalition were awarded a Build Back Better grant for $500,000 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. This phase one planning grant will go toward strategy planning a mass timber modular manufacturing facility, to be located at the Port's Marine Terminal 2.

The mass timber prototype project is an eligible finalist in the $1 billion Build Back Better regional challenge — the only finalist in the state of Oregon. In phase two, the coalition will compete with the other finalists for 20-30 awards up to $100 million each in American Rescue Plan funding, to go toward developing and scaling mass timber manufacturing here in the Pacific Northwest.

The vision of supporting Oregon's emerging mass timber industry, growing regional economic development opportunities, creating career pathways and business opportunities for struggling communities, and accelerating housing production is supported by the entire Oregon Congressional delegation, as well as local government officials, academics, and business representatives.

"Economic development is a team sport, particularly here in Oregon. The success of this proposal came from the strength of the coalition putting it forward, and the commitment to bring wins like this home to Oregon," said Sophorn Cheang, director of Business Oregon, in a statement.

As for the mass timber modular housing prototypes, they are planned to be developed at the Marine Terminal 2 mass timber modular manufacturing facility and be deployed throughout Oregon.

Port of Portland executive director Curtis Robinhold said in a statement the prototypes will be deployed to at least three different Oregon communities within the next two years.

"The prototype housing units will be barged and trucked from Terminal 2 to communities throughout Oregon to provide housing opportunities to communities in need," Robinhold said in a statement. "The modular home building industry is emerging, and no factories in Oregon are currently using mass timber technology. Prototyping will put existing research to a new use and demonstrate potential for new modular building concepts. Once tested, manufacturing can be scaled up leading to improved supply and reduced costs, reduced build times and less waste of materials."

After the prototype is created, the Port and Hacienda plan to do an assessment of environmental, economic and efficiency measurements of creating these units to scale. According to the Port, the mass timber project could also potentially add jobs in manufacturing, forestry and construction while supporting Oregon's emerging mass timber industry as well as providing support for the housing shortage crisis.

"Given the magnitude of need for more housing options for people at all income levels throughout Oregon, it's clear that we need innovation and faster ways to produce homes," Robinhold said.

Hacienda CDC, a nonprofit formed in 1986, provides necessary housing support for low-income, predominantly Latino communities — and has built 381 units of affordable rentals in the North and Northeast Portland areas and Molalla.

Ernesto Fonseca, CEO of Hacienda CDC, said in a statement the nonprofit is committed to exploring and advancing new ways to meet the needs of diverse Oregon communities.

"This partnership with the Port of Portland fills a gap for modular housing developed right here in Oregon, providing not only new housing options but job opportunities and new markets for Oregon wood products," Fonseca said in a statement. "Additionally, developing modular homes will address construction labor shortages in smaller and rural Oregon communities and could offer rapid response options to address housing shortages created by emergencies, like wildfires."

Learn more about the EDA grant online.

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