Forest to Home – Connecting Nature and People
Through the front door, a sense of warmth pervades the space. The living room is arranged with low-slung modern furniture, a densely woven burnt orange rug connects the space between the sofa, the white cup lounge chair, and the sleek and narrow coffee table. Stainless steel appliances gleam in the adjacent kitchen beneath soothing beige-color cabinets.
It’s the walls and the ceiling, however, that steal attention. Wooden and blonde throughout this home, Cross Laminated Timber makes a handsome appearance as well as making a bold debut as the foundation of Seattle-based nonprofit Forterra’s new Forest to Home initiative.
This modular home, made from Cross Laminated Timber, is the first of its kind in the United States.
Cross Laminated Timber, or CLT, is a wood panel product manufactured by gluing together layers of lumber stacked in alternating perpendicular directions. The result is a lightweight yet strong structural building material that holds up well against fire, earthquakes and temperature changes. CLT and modular have been used successfully in European construction for more than 20 years.
Forterra’s Forest to Home initiative begins with local, responsibly harvested timber, with CLT that is locally produced by local labor, in a soon-to-be state-of-the- art facility in Darrington. It brings attainable homes to overburdened communities and—under a limited equity co-op ownership financial structure—alleviates the initial financial burden for homebuyers and keeps them affordable over the long haul.
“When we talk about Forest to Home, we talk about how it benefits our communities—from natural to rural and urban,” said Michelle Connor, Forterra president and CEO. “We’re recognizing the many values of healthy working forests, creating meaningful jobs in small towns and helping to reduce displacement of communities whose members would otherwise be priced out of their neighborhoods. It’s a trifecta for the environment, economic development and social equity.”
This initiative brings attainable homes to Washington communities. In short, the new model is an overdue overhaul of the traditional building supply chain, making it local and sustainable to address ongoing challenges communities face here and around the world. It’s the start of something different.
Along every fact of the Forest to Home initiative, we are wringing cost from and localizing the supply chain to make homes that are affordable, beautiful and sustainable, said Tobias Levey, Forterra Vice President of Real Estate Transactions.
“We’ve seen medium home prices soar over the past decade in Washington and people commuting greater distances and at greater personal and environmental cost. We see the Forest to Home model as one that can help mitigate this problem and one that is scalable to help meet the increasing demand for affordable housing in Washington.”
At the center of this initiative is the workhorse manufacturing campus, the Darrington Wood Innovation Center, which breaks ground this spring. At the 93.6-acre Darrington Wood Innovation Center, is a mill, a CLT manufacturing facility and vast spaces where electricians, plumbers, finish carpenters and other trades will turn the CLT hulls into homes before being delivered to their destination.
The Darrington facility has required $120 million in total investment and is expected to spur local and regional growth. Fully implemented, it’s expected that the Forest to Home model will create 1,155 permanent jobs, in sectors such as forest management and manufacturing, and 1,060 indirect and construction jobs throughout the Pacific Northwest.
As a timber town, we are excited to be the innovation hub for this emerging high-tech wood products industry, said Dan Rankin, Town of Darrington Mayor.
“The Darrington Wood Innovation Center will spread economic diversity throughout our region by creating 122 new jobs that require a wide spectrum of skill sets and will allow folks to carry-on our legacy trades while adapting to modern technologies.”
Though the complete environmental benefits are not yet understood, Modular Cross Laminated Timber replaces CO2-intensive concrete and steel, while sequestering carbon.
One goal of the Forest to Home initiative is to sequester millions of tons of CO2 emissions while simultaneously conserving 100,000 acres of forest and building thousands of units of affordable housing and large industrial buildings out of CLT.
These wheels are already turning. While the Darrington Wood Innovation Center is being built, Forterra is in various stages of planning for four community-driven, Modular CLT projects throughout the region that will create 1,000 homes and 80,000 square feet of commercial space for Black- and immigrant-owned businesses in Washington. These projects are led by the communities in Tacoma, Tukwila and Roslyn, and in Hamilton where frequent flooding has disrupted the lives of its residents. In Hilltop, a traditionally Black neighborhood in Tacoma, Forterra began working with the community in 2019, when Hilltop residents sought new ideas for a long- shuttered Rite Aid at the center of the business district near public transportation, including the newly opened light rail line. Following conversations with Hilltop stakeholders, Forterra bought the property and, with local community partner, Fab-5, and a citizen’s advisory council made up of Black residents of Hilltop, began working with the community to design a development that would meet their needs.
“I believe that Forterra is leading the way in how developers should be coming into a community—by working alongside residents, thinking outside the box of creative and new ways to bring in sustainable housing and by preserving natural resources that will help improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” said Brendan Nelson, Executive Director of Hilltop Action Coalition.
I think Forterra has set the tone and become an example for other developers looking to come into any community, particularly Hilltop: Do your homework, connect, engage, and grow together.
Over the course of many community conversations, the Hilltop community identified increasing attainable home ownership as one of the community’s primary needs, to address the ongoing rapid displacement of its residents. In addition, the community wanted a development that would center Black-owned businesses and the art and culture of the Hilltop community.
The community-led process led to the concept of a mixed-use development that includes more than 25,000 square feet of commercial space with a priority for Black-owned businesses, 250 ownership and rental homes, with half of them targeted for 60% of area median income and a priority for Hilltop’s residents. Though this project is in its early stages, Forterra expects a 2024 groundbreaking with units being shipped in from Darrington and completing yet another cycle of the Forest to Home initiative.
We are connecting nature and people across Washington’s landscapes in a process that improves the outlook for everyone, said Forterra CEO Connor.
All Photos Courtesy of Forterra