Pittsburgh is one of many cities across the country grappling with affordable housing issues. In fact, the National Low Income Housing Coalition this year estimated a shortage of 7 million affordable homes for low-income renters throughout the nation.
But Pittsburgh also boasts organizations trying to address the issue — and succeeding— as well as spread solutions to other cities. Module, an East Liberty-based housing startup, has a goal of filling Steel City’s thousands of vacant lots with affordable and energy-efficient homes. The company has successfully provided 12 units to the city since its founding and hopes to build many more, CEO and cofounder Brian Gaudio told Technical.ly.
“How can we deliver a new way to design and build housing that’s more sustainable, that can help resolve or remediate a lot of the infill development challenges that are out there?” Gaudio said about Module’s original goal, adding: “How can we do it in a way that’s repeatable and scalable?”
Module has been recognized and rewarded for this goal. The startup, which usually serves nonprofits, was recently was named a member of the 2022 Housing Lab Cohort. That program is led by The Housing Lab, a California-based housing nonprofit building a reputation for finding seeking creative solutions to housing insecurity on a national level. In addition to offering the startup $75,000 in funding and six months of mentorship, the cohort will help the company gain a better understanding of the housing landscape. It will also help Module get more affordable housing units on the market both within and beyond Pittsburgh.
The company’s inclusion in the cohort arrives on the heels its receiving $250,000 from the Richard King Mellon Foundation earlier this year. It earned that six-figure award after placing third in the foundation’s inaugural pitch competition for social impact investment. In addition, the organization has collaborated with the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh vocational training program to launch the Last Mile Lab, a workplace training program focused on preparing people from marginalized groups to enter the construction field.
Module prides itself in part on providing homeowners with Department of Energy-approved houses that meet Zero Energy Ready standards. That means that the properties run entirely on electric energy and can generate as much energy onsite as the total amount it consumes. The startup typically builds its houses off-site as a matter of practicality that allows it to construct homes faster and provides quality control. When the construction is complete, the finished houses get loaded onto a truck and taken to the location its future occupants will call home.
“Every time we build a new project, that client is pretty excited to see the homes delivered on a truck and [watching] a crane lift them 20 feet in the air to install them is pretty wild, and always really fun to see,” Gaudio said. “That process is great.”
Soon, Gaudio may get to see clients’ smiling faces outside of Pittsburgh. The CEO explained that Module is in talks with housing providers in places such as Baltimore and the DC area. Although Module would like to see its houses delivered to homeowners across the Mid-Atlantic, Gaudio says the company will continue to maintain its homebase in Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh is our home,” he said. “We are here to support and help create and alleviate the housing shortage. So we’re here to help, and we’d invite folks who are also working on that to collaborate with us.”Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
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