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Inside a tiny prefab home for the homeless

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A possible solution for San Francisco citizens without a place to call home

It’s a tiny moment of truth for developer Patrick Kennedy’s MicroPADs.

He touts his petite prefab apartments as an affordable solution to San Francisco’s homeless problem. But that only flies if the units can impress both the city and public as a place where anyone might theoretically want to live.

Each 160-square-foot home is identical. They can be manufactured in a week, and then combined into a 200-unit building in a few months, Kennedy promises. In his mind, they’re the most efficient solution to the city’s housing shortage for the homeless.

Starting today he’s parked a demo unit outside of his office on Ninth and Mission—a section of SoMa that has a large populace of homeless people itself—and Curbed SF was only the second tour to be admitted inside. The first was Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, shopping around for housing solutions for his city.

The contemporary studio’s interior dimensions are roughly the size of, say, the break room in a small office. Step inside and you’ll find a kitchenette to the right and a bathroom pod (made of four pieces of opaque tempered glass) immediately to the left.

A small common area at the aft serves as your combination living room and bedroom, plus your view of the city. While not terribly cramped inside, it doesn’t provide much in the room of stretching-out space either.

Kennedy is understandably proud of the small, space-saving touches—e.g., the toilet paper holder that doubles as an ADA-compliant grab bar, or the so-called “mud room,” which isn’t a room at all but merely a rack right by the front door to stow outerwear or umbrellas.

“Everybody needs somewhere to store your crap.” Kennedy not so delicately puts it.

There’s even a UV light under the bed that kills bedbugs. Kennedy promises that each MicroPAD will be a self-contained home, functionally isolated from every unit in the same building.

“You can flood this apartment and nobody below you will know,” he says.

Ideally, he would like to build a 200-unit complex on city-owned property on Caesar Chavez and rent it to the city to house the currently homeless.

But City Hall says Kennedy’s MicroPADs are more expensive than the present SRO stock—he’d charge $1,000/month for each one—and local labor grumble about the fact that they’re manufactured in China rather than locally.

Kennedy counters that it doesn’t matter how cheap SROs may be if there aren’t enough of them to house everybody, and argues that he’d make enough work for unions by hiring them to assemble his modular buildings.

He’s confident that at least one MicroPAD building will open in the Bay Area in 2017, possibly in Oakland or Berkeley if not San Francisco.

The display model PAD (an acronym for “Prefab Affordable Dwelling”) displays through November 11. Having finally been inside one, we can confirm that you won’t exactly be living large in there But it’s as comfy as a 160 foot home is likely to get.

Plus, the pickings at $1,000/month in the city are even smaller.