Silicon Valley nonprofit Charities Housing took a new approach when developing its 59-unit Parkside Studios in Sunnyvale, Calif. The 370-square-foot micro-unit studios were built off-site in a warehouse near Sacramento by modular manufacturer ZETA Communities.

It's one of the first affordable housing developments to use modular construction at scale in Northern California.

“We thought, considering the project was all one unit type and all studios, it seemed to be the perfect fit for modular,” says Dan Wu, executive director of Charities Housing. “We saw it in a market-rate project and thought if we ever want to figure out if we could really do it, this would be a good project to try it on. We had to get a lot of people educated, but it was the ideal project to try it out.”

Compared with the traditional site-build method, the modular construction saved approximately five months in construction time and 5% on construction costs.

“When you calculate the dollar amount, it’s not a lot,” says Wu. “But for a small project, it’s real money.”

The development received GreenPoint Rated gold certification through Build It Green, with the building’s energy efficiency more than 15% better than California’s Title 24 requirements. In addition, the project includes water- and energy-saving features, such as drought-tolerant landscaping, a weather-based irrigation system, and Energy Star appliances and bath exhaust fans.

Parkside Studios, which was completed in June 2015, is Charities Housing’s fourth micro-unit development. The 58 studios and one two-bedroom unit serve residents earning at or less than 45% of the area median income. Seven project-based Sec. 8 units are targeted to chronically homeless households, with vouchers allocated through the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara. An additional 11 units, subsidized through the state’s Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), are targeted to clients of the County of Santa Clara Mental Health Department.

The $22.4 million development was financed with low-income housing tax credit equity from National Equity Fund, housing mitigation and HOME funds from the city of Sunnyvale, Community Development Block Grants and HOME funds from the county of Santa Clara, and California Housing Finance Agency MHSA funds.

The city of Sunnyvale also executed a long-term ground lease with Charities Housing. The site was the former home of the National Guard Armory, which was used as a cold weather shelter.