Blokable, the Seattle startup looking to transform how housing is developed, delivered its first unit as part of a larger housing complex in the Seattle suburb of Edmonds, Wash.
Blokable manufactures its units in a facility in Vancouver, Wash., and then transports them on a truck to the job site. The first studio unit was delivered to the site over the weekend.
This was just the start of a project that Blokable is working on with Seattle-based Compass Housing Alliance. Plans call for a three-story complex with 70 units, built in phases on land donated by Edmonds Lutheran Church. Blokable is working with Washington state officials to get the next version of its product approved for this project, which will include one-, two- and three-bedroom units.
Crews still have a lot of work to do, installing steps, awnings, finishes and other materials, but Blokable says manufacturing the units in a controlled environment using a standardized baseline to start building from with each home saves time and money. Compass hasn’t set rents yet for the project.
Co-CEO Aaron Holm is a former product manager at Amazon who worked on the tech giant’s physical retail push, including bookstores and the checkout-free Amazon Go convenience concept. Nelson Del Rio has advised the company for two years and joined Holm as co-CEO earlier this year. Del Rio pioneered public-private partnerships for handling government-occupied commercial buildings that brought together government entities, nonprofits and commercial developers.
Holm and Del Rio have landed some deep-pocketed believers, most notably Paul Allen, whose firm Vulcan invested in the startup last year as part of a $5 million round. As Blokable is getting its first units on the ground, it is also raising more cash.
For most of its history, the signature public-facing element of Blokable was the Bloks, manufactured smart housing units that come together to build inexpensive but high-quality complexes. The company recently unveiled its “housing development as a service,” offering that seeks to dramatically lower the cost of building and ensure everyone has access to a home. Blokable pitches the service as “turnkey” for non-profits, housing trusts, developers and others and handles the entire process with help from architecture and contractor partners.
The units are made of steel frames instead of the wood frames typically found in many modular projects. That makes it easier to rapidly transport and install Bloks on site and arrange them into larger units or create multi-unit housing complexes.
The bones of Blokable units are standardized. Everything else — like doors, windows and fixtures — is customizable. Blokable wants each of its projects to fit in and raise the profile and prosperity of the neighborhoods it builds in.
Built into every unit is a smart monitoring system called BlokSense meant to reduce operating, maintenance and insurance costs by keeping tabs on air quality, humidity and alerting owners when something needs fixing.
In addition to other projects in the Seattle area, Blokable is also planning in Vancouver, Wash., the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York City, and Eden, Utah. Blokable is mostly focused on affordable housing right now, but its model can service all parts of the housing spectrum.