This rendering shows two of several facade possibilities for Inherent L3C's modular homes
A house built in modules in a North Lawndale factory will soon be assembled on a lot in West Humboldt Park, the first of what a development firm hopes will be two dozen affordable homes for the area.
In a factory on Polk Street, “we’ve built the biggest thing legally allowable on Chicago streets,” said Tim Swanson, an architect and founder of Inherent L3C. And by the end of July, they’ll truck it to a vacant lot on Lawndale Avenue, followed by a second unit the same size. Each unit is a full 720-square-foot floor of the future two-story house.
The two units will be assembled into a three-bedroom, two-bath house designed to keep energy consumption low. The house will have hookups for future solar panels and include an alarm system and apps for monitoring energy and water use.
The home is priced at $350,000, and Swanson says the targeted middle-income buyers may qualify for up to $81,000 in grants, a combination of micromarket recovery funds and money from the city and Inherent’s lending partner. The grants “make it affordable at 120%" area median income, he says. Those are households with an income of $87,600 for a single person or $125,400 for a family of four.
In the past two years, 33 houses have sold in the area Inherent is targeting, at an average price of $165,000, according to Crain's research on Redfin, the online real estate marketplace. Three new-construction homes have sold in the upper $370,000s.
The house comes with some unusual amenities: a life insurance policy on the primary earner in the household and a warranty that includes five years of winterizing, changing filters and other maintenance. These are components of what Swanson calls “building homeowners, not just homes.” Loss of income often leads to foreclosure, “and we want to prevent that,” he said.
Inherent has a total of 24 lots in a 20-block area around Laura Ward STEM School, a CPS elementary building on Lawndale Avenue directly across the street from the first home’s site. “The idea is to take a community asset and surround it with housing,” Swanson said.
A lead investor in Inherent is Harry Huzenis, who founded the Chicago residential brokerage Jameson Real Estate (now James Sotheby’s International Realty) with his brother, Charlie, 40 years ago.
While Jameson has been involved in development of homes before, they've largely been high-end houses built by traditional methods. Huzenis said he got involved with Inherent because its use of modular homes “helps solve the problem of building affordable housing. It’s been used all over the country; we’re not inventing a new rocket ship.”
Inherent joins several other developers using modular construction to bring costs down. Other developers’ efforts are underway in East Garfield Park and in South Shore, as well as other sites on the South and Southwest sides.
Before launching Inherent, Swanson was the lead designer at Skender Construction, whose attempt to get into modular, or factory-built, apartments fell apart in 2020. Prior to that, he was the Chicago practice leader for Cannon, an architecture firm.
Inherent employs 14 people at its factory in the K-Town section of North Lawndale. Swanson said that if the firm gets up to full capacity, it can build 100 houses a year. He hopes to complete a dozen this year and 40 to 50 next year. Along with the 24 planned for West Humboldt Park, he said he hopes to build clusters of modular homes in East Garfield Park, North Lawndale, West Pullman and Washington Heights.
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