The pandemic put a general crimp in housing construction, but made a California factory that churns out prefabricated housing extra busy.

What if housing was built more like cars — on an assembly line in a factory?

Rick Holliday thinks it should be. The longtime Bay Area developer turned a former Naval submarine factory into one that has been doing exactly that. Workers at Factory OS construct apartment building components on Mare Island in Vallejo, Calif., about 40 miles from San Francisco, then transport them on flatbed trucks to their final location. “By the end of the process it goes out the door and it’s a fully formed apartment that you put together like Legos to form a completed building.”

The process can cut the time it takes to build an apartment building in half, to roughly only 11 to 12 months, he said, with multiple parts of construction taking place at once in a controlled environment, which means fewer delays and a more streamlined process in general.

Cutting costs by as much as 30%

Mr. Holliday, who co-founded the factory with Larry Pace, said doing it this way, versus constructing a building on site, also cuts costs by as much as 30 percent. In the Bay Area, where the price of building a single affordable housing unit is close to $1 million, it can mean the difference between a developer building an apartment or not.

“I got into the industry at 26 and building is no different than when I started,” said Mr. Holliday, 68. “If we don’t take a different approach to building, we’re not going to get anywhere.” So far, Factory OS has completed 10 buildings for a total of roughly 1,200 units in Northern California and gotten financial backing from tech companies like Google, Autodesk and Facebook.


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