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Seattle startup Blokable hopes to address housing crunch

SEATTLE – Here in the Puget Sound, many people are asking themselves if they can afford to live here, as housing inventory fails to keep up with demand. A Seattle-based company is hoping to change that, with homes they claim are affordable and customizable at the same time.

Q13 interviewed the CEO of Blokable to talk about his vision of housing.

In order to understand that vision, you have to understand CEO Aaron Holm’s past.

"I grew up with a single Mom," he said.  "I grew up in lower-income housing for sure. I grew up understanding the housing challenges. "

His familiarity with those challenges led him to ways that might help solve them. Holm is a former manager at Amazon who helped launch Amazon Go and Amazon Books. Throughout his time there, he saw how technology could solve problems.

He also thought technology could solve the housing crisis facing our region. That's when Blokable was born.

"I just became convinced that it was time to build a product that could change the supply and demand curves, which are going in opposite directions right now," Holm said.

Blokable homes are not converted shipping containers. Instead, each unit is built at their factory in Vancouver, Wash. Each Blokable has a steel frame strong enough to withstand earthquakes, and design elements like recessed lighting and smart home technology. After one is built, it can be shipped anywhere within a thousand miles of the factory.

"It comes out of our factory, it`s been inspected by the state, it drops onto a foundation, connects to utilities and it`s immediately livable," Holm said.

Blokable is responsible for the permitting process, which traditionally can be time-consuming. Holm said there are permits approved for parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California. Each Blokable unit also ranges depending on the developer's needs, from 170 to 260 square feet.

"A 260 square-foot Blokable unit, our target is we're hitting $200 per square foot so we can build units for $65,000," Holm said.

Blokable units are not sold individually for a single owner. Instead, they are sold to developers who want to address the housing crisis to groups who really need it.

"Medium- to low- to no-income people," Holm said. "And it's everything from non-profits who are working with veterans, seniors, or people experiencing homelessness, all the way to affordable housing for individuals coming out of college, or teachers or firefighters."

For Holm, starting Blokable was also about changing the residential construction industry. It's about keeping up with the demand, making homes in a matter of weeks, instead of years.

"Rather than relying on site-built labor to get the supply that we need, we can leverage the way we build planes and cars for the last 20 years and really think about manufacturing as a way to create supply," he said.

Holm hopes that Blokable will make housing accessible and affordable for everyone.

"There's no silver bullet, there's no one answer," Holm said. "It's just build lots of housing. We're focused on a particular end of the market that's just difficult for site build construction to address."

Non-profit Compass Housing has a site in Edmonds where the first Blokable units will be installed in a few weeks. Other locations where Blokable's will be installed include locally in Auburn and in East Palo Alto, Calif. by summer.