Building the future: Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry turns to 3D to house the homeless

For 55 years, social services advocacy organization Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM) has offered innovative solutions to problems facing greater Cleveland’s most vulnerable populations—from those experiencing homelessness, to people in need of a hot meal, to help with job training, to caring for indigent adult populations.

As the operator of the largest homeless shelter in Ohio with 2100 Lakeside, LMM has consistently thought outside the box to develop affordable housing solutions, such as its Breaking New Ground initiative or affordable housing initiatives.

Now, LMM is embarking on perhaps its most innovative affordable housing project of all with a pilot program to build affordable 3D-printed houses in Cleveland.
The project is being funded by a $500,000 allocation from the City of Cleveland’s American Rescue Plan funds, championed by Ward 7 Cleveland City Council member Stephanie D. Howse-Jones.

“Ms. Howse-Jones has been a vocal advocate for the need for more affordable housing, innovative solutions, and addressing homelessness," says Michael Sering, LMM vice president of housing and shelter. He explains that 3D printing technology, when used as a home construction technique, makes the process faster and cheaper than traditional housing construction.

“Basically, you have a nozzle called an extruder,” Sering says. “It follows the path that the architect designed, to build an entire house or build sections—like concrete panels that you store in a warehouse and then move them on site.”

Pantheon 3D printing home constructionPantheon 3D printing home construction Sering adds the 3D printing for housing technology has already caught on in other cities around the country and the world. He says LMM started discussing the possibilities of building homes with 3D printers five years ago.

$150,000 of the funding will first go toward extensive due diligence, including visiting equipment makers, construction sites using 3D printing, analyzing costs, developing multiple housing designs, and creating a business plan.

“Sometimes some of the equipment [manufacturers], in their promotional materials, make it sound really easy,” Sering warns. “It's not quite that easy—there's a lot to it.”

The remaining $350,000 will fund the construction of two pilot houses to test the concept. “We would like to have proof of concept,” he says. “We want people to give input to it—what do they like about it, and [decide if it] should be replicated.”

Sering says the pilot houses will be around 1,000 square feet, although the technology can create houses of any size, and sell for about $150,000.

“We want to lay out like a handful of designs and a handful of floor plans,” he explains. “We're interested in maybe three small bedrooms with one-and-a-half baths—small, efficient, and affordable. Part of that could fit into what we're already doing as a property owner—renting to people affordably who are leaving homelessness. It could also be home ownership that could be affordable to people that otherwise are out of reach of home ownership.”

Sering says they will look at vacant land parcels around the city—in particular in Ward 7, where many of LMM’s housing initiative already exists—and work with the Cuyahoga Land Bank and the Cleveland Land Bank to find available lots. He says eventually, LMM would like to work with Cleveland City Council members and area Community Development Corporations (CDCs) about building affordable houses throughout the city.

LMM has been talking with a variety of community partners about the 3D homes pilot project, including using renderings by Sai Sinbondit and Ryan Peticca of I_You Design Lab, a nonprofit design collective formed to create a sense of place and security in temporary homesteads.

Sering says they have also consulted with Ryan Kelly, founder and CEO of Youngstown-based Pantheon Innovative Building Solutions, a 3D construction startup, about housing solutions using the technology.

“It's a great path that Lutheran's taking,” Kelly says, noting that Pantheon uses large, gantry-style printers to create resilient concrete structures. “Robotic construction and 3D printing are definitely going to have to be a major piece for construction in the future.”

LMM just started the planning process of the pilot project. “We're thinking it will take six months to conduct the due diligence—to make site visits, get community input on designs and options, and have a roadmap for it,” Sering explains, adding that he estimates it will be a year-and-a-half before the pilot project is complete. He’s optimistic it will yield positive results.

“NASA can print housing on the Moon. We can print affordable housing in Cleveland,” Sering notes, citing the adaptability of 3D printing for construction. "That's the versatility of the technology.”

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.