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Step(1) housing: A new approach to sheltering unhoused people in Redwood City, Calif.

Multifamily Housing

Step(1) housing: A new approach to sheltering unhoused people in Redwood City, Calif.

This modular housing development features individual sleeping units, private bathrooms, shared services, and community spaces. 


By Peter Fabris, Contributing Editor | February 1, 2023
The San Mateo County Navigation Center represents the first built instance of the Office of Charles F. Bloszies’s “Step1” interim supportive housing system
The San Mateo County Navigation Center represents the first built instance of the Office of Charles F. Bloszies’s “Step1” interim supportive housing system. With the exception of two larger structures for gathering spaces and communal dining, all buildings are composed of prefabricated modules, according to the firm. All renderings and drawings courtesy Office of Charles F. Bloszies FAIA

A novel solution to homelessness will open soon in Redwood City, Calif. The San Mateo County Navigation Center is a compact residential campus that employs modular units to create individual sleeping units, most with private bathrooms. The 240 units of housing will be accompanied by shared services and community spaces. Instead of the congregate dorm-style shelters found in many U.S. cities, this approach gives each resident a private, lockable, conditioned sleeping space.

The project's architect, Charles F. Bloszies, FAIA, calls the design concept the "Step1” interim supportive housing system. “This idea is novel, but not experimental,” he says. “It stems from listening to unhoused people themselves and the social service providers who have devoted their careers to taking on one of society’s most intractable problems: homelessness.”

Metrics from studies by social service groups, including Menlo Park-based LifeMoves, operator of the facility, show this type of supportive setting works very well, with average resident stays of three to six months. The project has been developed and managed by the San Mateo County Project Development Unit (PDU) under a design-build contract employed for all construction undertaken by the county.

Step1 supportive housing concept

According to San Mateo County’s last count, over 1,500 people there are homeless. Redwood City determined that in early 2022 over 100 unhoused people lived in 25 encampments. About half of those unhoused people told city officials they became homeless during the pandemic.

The new Redwood City solution is hailed as “revolutionary” by County Executive Officer Michael Callagy, who said, “This will change the face of homelessness in our county. This is a tremendous opportunity to help our entire community by ensuring that every homeless individual who wants shelter can find it and is treated with dignity and respect. These are real people with real issues and these funds will change lives.

For a prior 100-unit project in Mountain View, Calif., also designed by the Office of Charles F. Bloszies, FAIA, Gov. Gavin Newsom said it “is exactly the kind of project that needs to be replicated, using modular prefabricated buildings that can be stood up at blazing fast speeds and at a fraction of the cost of normal housing.”

On the project team: 
Owner and/or developer: San Mateo County Project Development Unit (PDU)
Design architect: the Office of Charles F. Bloszies FAIA
Architect of record: the Office of Charles F. Bloszies FAIA
MEP engineer: Meyers+ Engineers (design)
Structural engineer: the Office of Charles F. Bloszies FAIA
General contractor/construction manager:  XL Construction
Modular subcontractor/vendor: Silver Creek Industries

The San Mateo County Navigation Center represents the first built instance of the Office of Charles F. Bloszies’s “Step1” interim supportive housing system

The San Mateo County Navigation Center represents the first built instance of the Office of Charles F. Bloszies’s “Step1” interim supportive housing system

The San Mateo County Navigation Center represents the first built instance of the Office of Charles F. Bloszies’s “Step1” interim supportive housing system

The San Mateo County Navigation Center represents the first built instance of the Office of Charles F. Bloszies’s “Step1” interim supportive housing system

The San Mateo County Navigation Center represents the first built instance of the Office of Charles F. Bloszies’s “Step1” interim supportive housing system

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