A Houston pilot program created a way to design stylish homes at a fraction of the cost — and in less than half the time. Photo courtesy of BoxPrefab

For families who want to live near downtown, Houston's affordable housing deficit in and around the Inner Loop is no secret.

For thirty years and counting, Houston-based nonprofit Avenue has confronted this reality by creating affordable housing opportunities and comprehensive community development programs for families in Houston neighborhoods.

"One of our chief objectives is to help stabilize neighborhoods and give opportunities for people to stay in the neighborhoods by providing moderately-priced homes," says Robert Fiederlein, Avenue's senior director of real estate development.

After an audit of Houston's Northline neighborhood revealed the community's affordable housing shortage, the Avenue team began to explore various methods to deliver new construction to the community, through sustainable housing at affordable prices. Research of diverse construction methods led Avenue to the innovative solution of prefabricated family dwellings.

In their effort to find a smart, sustainable alternative to traditional construction, Avenue came across BoxPrefab, an innovative off-site construction company that produces precision-built prefabricated homes from design to completion.

BoxPrefab's sustainable-oriented attributes and efficient processes checked all of Avenue's 'must-have' boxes and the two entities kicked off their partnership with their premier pilot program for modular home development.

"We care a lot about bringing affordability to housing and bringing good designs to affordable housing. We were really excited to work with Avenue because we are really in tune with their mission," says Rame Hruska, BoxPrefab's co-founder. "This is a great solution for homeowners."

This housing solution is not your run-of-the-mill "affordable housing." Besides its sleek finishes and modern look, BoxPrefab's modular home design and construction process is practical and ultra-simplified. Using prefabricated components, the company specializes in building homes in a factory, a controlled environment, instead of building on-site, where the construction process is subject to external variables, like rain, inclement weather, or any labor diversions.

The BoxPrefab houses are created offsite and then set up on the property. Photo courtesy of BoxPrefab

"Reliability is a big factor for our clients. There's so many unknowns and variables, from weather to other various delays, so we can really give people a much more definitive price, time and set quality," says Hruska.

After producing the factory-built components, BoxPrefab then assembles the prefabricated modules on the home's lot. With this streamlined process, BoxPrefab is able to build homes faster and in a more systematic manner, all while reducing waste output and overall cost.

"We have confidence that if we placed higher orders, costs would go down," Fiederlein says. "This could be a way to build less costly affordable housing. Construction costs came out $130 per square foot, which is comparable to the other site-built homes that we're working on right now.

"Another thing we've learned was that we can do it in half the time as a site build," Fiederlein continues. "It takes six to seven months to build a site-built home and we completed this home in just over three months. Russell, with tighter scheduling, said he could've built quicker. We can half the time it would normally take. As you know, time is money."

BoxPrefab's construction process, fiscal efficiency and waste output reduction is exactly what Avenue was looking for in a partner. Together, the two entities successfully completed their pilot program by placing a three-bedroom-two-bathroom prefabricated home on the market in Houston's Northline neighborhood.

"We're really excited about this potential and see it as becoming a much more standard way to build," Hruska says.

Prefabricated building options are considered the future of construction, due to its increased reliability and quality in the construction process, Hruska says. Based on the success of their pilot program, Avenue anticipates investing in more modular housing in the future. BoxPrefab, while Houston-based and focused, has their sights set on expanding regionally, to service more clients with prefabricated solutions, says Russell Hruska, BoxPrefab co-founder.

"Modular is a viable path going forward," Fiederlein says. "It's going to take additional work to get there, but the pilot shows that it's certainly a method that helps to reduce costs…We're confident that it can be the way of delivering affordable housing at lower prices."

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2 Houston research teams to receive support from local space health organization

out of this world

A Houston-based organization has named five research projects to advance the understanding of space radiation using human tissue. Two of the five projects are based in Houston.

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, is based at Baylor College of Medicine and funds health research and tech for astronauts during space missions. The astronauts who are headed to the moon or further will be exposed to high Galactic Cosmic Radiation levels, and TRISH wants to learn more about the effects of GCR.

"With this solicitation, TRISH was looking for novel human-based approaches to understand better Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR) hazards, in addition to safe and effective countermeasures," says Kristin Fabre, TRISH's chief scientist, in a news release. "More than that, we sought interdisciplinary teams of scientists to carry these ideas forward. These five projects embody TRISH's approach to cutting-edge science."

The five projects are:

  • Michael Weil, PhD, of Colorado State University, Colorado — Effects of chronic high LET radiation on the human heart
  • Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, PhD of Columbia University, New York — Human multi-tissue platform to study effects of space radiation and countermeasures
  • Sharon Gerecht, PhD of Johns Hopkins University, Maryland — Using human stem-cell derived vascular, neural and cardiac 3D tissues to determine countermeasures for radiation
  • Sarah Blutt, PhD of Baylor College of Medicine, Texas — Use of Microbial Based Countermeasures to Mitigate Radiation Induced Intestinal Damage
  • Mirjana Maletic-Savatic, PhD of Baylor College of Medicine, Texas — Counteracting space radiation by targeting neurogenesis in a human brain organoid model

The researchers are tasked with simulating radiation exposure to human tissues in order to study new ways to protect astronauts from the radiation once in deep space. According to the release, the tissue and organ models will be derived from blood donated by the astronaut in order to provide him or her with customized protection that will reduce the risk to their health.

TRISH is funded by a partnership between NASA and Baylor College of Medicine, which also includes consortium partners Caltech and MIT. The organization is also a partner to NASA's Human Research Program.

Houston biotech company launches animal testing on a drug that could treat COVID-19

searching for a cure

A clinical stage pharmaceutical company based in Houston has entered into the next phase of testing out a drug that could be used to treat COVID-19.

Moleculin Biotech Inc. has tapped an independent lab to examine the antiviral activity of its WP1122 portfolio in a COVID-19 animal model. The drug was originally developed as a cancer-fighting glycolysis inhibitor and submitted for its COVID-19 treatment patent in April.

"With in vivo studies for the treatment of COVID-19 in such high demand, we are excited to begin an in vivo study involving our WP1122 portfolio," says Walter Klemp, chairman and CEO of Moleculin, in a press release. "Even though we may have initial observations earlier, having the final data readout in December will push the estimated window for filing an Investigational New Drug application into 2021.

"We are also planning to conduct other in vivo studies, intended to enable us to file a complete IND with the US Food and Drug Administration."

The in vivo study, which would use the lab's hamster model and SARS-CoV-2. Moleculin Biotech expects to have the data from the study in December.

"We are excited about the additional in vitro testing as this will involve more than one molecule from our WP1122 anitmetabolite portfolio against SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses," says Klemp.

Moleculin Biotech was founded by Klemp in 2007 and went public in 2016. The company is based in the Memorial Park area of Houston.

Houston apartment company on 6 smart home technologies for renters

guest column

With recent changes to the ways we work and live, the importance of smart home technology in apartment complexes is becoming more important than ever. Residents not only want to streamline their lifestyles, but are looking for ways to limit contact when performing interactions.

A great example of smart home technology can be found at Drewery Place in Midtown. Built by Australian property developer Caydon, Drewery Place is at the forefront of smart home technology, providing residents with plenty of options to simplify their lifestyles in contactless style. Below are just some of the smart home features that residents in this tech savvy development enjoy.

Latch keyless entry

Fumbling for your keys is a thing of the past. Now you can use your phone to open not only your apartment door, but also resident-only areas such as the fitness center, pool area and pet park.

Smart thermostats

Come home to the perfect climate with smart thermostat technology. Now you can flick on the heat or blast in the cool as you can control the temperature from anywhere on your phone.

Set the scene

You know those days when things are just a little too bright? Or maybe you want to lighten the mood a little? Whatever you're feeling, get your lighting to match it with dimmer and lighting controls on your phone. There's also a host of pre-programmed lighting scenes so you can set the mood for any occasion.

Alexa — your new best friend

All of Drewery Place's apartments are wired and ready for Amazon's smart assistant, Alexa. Using voice control, you can get Alexa to adjust lighting, play your favorite music, summon an Uber and even order Amazon packages.

Caydon HQ

All residents at Drewery Place can pay their rent, request a maintenance repair, book amenities, organize a dog walker or request a Spruce chore such as a deep clean for their apartment. You can also get notifications from the concierge on when packages arrive and arrange contactless pickup from the downstairs mail lockers.

Get physical

Not into group classes? Organize a training session for one, anytime at the fitness center using MIRROR gym technology. This is literally a magic mirror, where a virtual trainer will train with you in the class of your choice. There's over 20+ categories to choose from, plus they'll correct your form in real-time — so you get personalized attention minus the class numbers.

The staff at Drewery Place are also taking extra precautions to help stop the spread of COVID-19 with regular deep cleanings, social distancing protocol and signage throughout the building. If you want to learn more, you can organize a personal tour complete with masks and social distancing.

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Emma Alexander is acting chief of operations and director of sales and marketing for Caydon.