Student-designed Modular Home Moves to Homeless Center

The four modules of the home moving to the center's backyard

[Editor's note: This story was updated on July 16 with the progress of the move]

June 20, 2024 –The Homeless Intervention Services of Orange County (HIS-OC) moved the four modules of the award-winning home designed by UC Irvine and Orange Coast College students into their backyard.  The home won second place overall at the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon for its innovative features and was donated to the center by the student team.

This 750-square foot home will enable the center to raise their capacity from nine beds to 17 beds for at-risk youth between 18 to 24 years old. Since August 2020, this program has helped 165 youth get back on their feet after being traumatized by abandonment, homelessness, sex trafficking, addiction and other challenges. “It’s [usually] a combination of an underserved and underprivileged start,” said HIS-OC Executive Director Christine Stellino. “This is our next generation so we need to start here to empower this population to sustainability and self-sustainability.”

HIS-OC Case Manager Anthony Trejo says the program has been working. The youth reside for an average of four months and are required to get a job, save money and learn life skills like paying their bills to help them be self-sufficient. They also attend classes on anger management and recovery. “The residents learn that structure is very important,” said Trejo. “They also know they have someone behind them who wants to see them succeed.”

The award-winning home and team at the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon

The modular home is a sustainable accessory dwelling unit (ADU) that offers a solution to homelessness and affordable housing, which are top concerns of Orange County residents as found in a 2023 poll conducted by the UCI School of Social Ecology.  Joe Manbert, director of Development Service at the city of Placentia, said the city is very proud of this project. Manbert said affordable housing is one of the city’s goals and ADUs offer a solution. “Any homeowner is eligible to put an ADU on their property,” he said. “Some residents have done so to house extended family members.”

As for this ADU, the students designed it with transitional youth in mind. The roof reaches up like the wings of a butterfly. “We studied metamorphosis and wanted the home to provide them the encouragement to leave more uplifted and secure,” says OCC student Georgie Ampudia, the project’s student lead. The unique design also enables residents to enjoy high ceilings and rainwater collection for recycling.

Female students building the home at the OC Sustainability Decathlon

About a hundred students from the UC Irvine and Orange Coast College helped design and build the home and over 80% of them were women. “I was honestly scared to use power tools being someone that’s not very strong,” says Wandrocke, a UCI mechanical engineering senior, “but it was easier than expected because my professor Mark Walter instructed me how to do things.”

The home won first place for market potential and engineering and construction at the decathlon, which saw student teams from across the nation compete. At the UCI Samueli School of Engineering, students were able to use their engineering skills and get academic credit for participating in the project. Its innovative base plus bonus modules offer flexibility to mix and match the home like legos to fit into backyards or to build a village.

So far, HIS-OC has raised the funds needed to move the modules of the home to its backyard. It will also need more funds to complete its construction. Those interested in donating to help fund the completion of the home are welcome to visit the HIS-OC website


- Natalie Tso

The HIS-OC ribbon cutting ceremony as they begin to move the modular home to their lot


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