By Beth Foster and Kate McElligott
1.6 billion lack adequate shelter
There are currently 1.6 billion people worldwide who lack adequate shelter, and more than half a million people in the United States experiencing homelessness. And as climate change accelerates, homelessness due to sudden-onset natural disasters will increase. Since 2008, an average of 25 million people have been displaced each year by sudden-onset disasters.
Increasing affordable housing is critical for solving the homelessness crisis but not only will it take years to build the needed supply, but crisis events—whether climate-induced or due to personal life events—will continue to occur and people need an effective exit pathway into stable housing. This is where Pallet’s housing innovation comes in.
As part of our Work and Prosperity portfolio, the Autodesk Foundation has made an investment in Pallet, a social purpose corporation that manufactures rapid-response shelter villages to provide dignified, transitional housing in a community setting, while building a more equitable and inclusive manufacturing workforce. To date, Pallet has served thousands of unhoused people through over 60 shelter villages across 11 states.
Pallet’s panelized cabins can each be built in 30 minutes and require minimal training to install, offering cities, counties, states, and nonprofits cost-effective and high-quality housing units that provide safety, dignity, and community for unhoused people. Each village resident also has access to wrap-around support services, such as meals and case management, provided by local service providers. Pallet cabins are insulated, resistant to mold, rot, and pests, easy to clean, and can last 10+ years.
Equitable workforce development
It’s clear that skilled workers are needed to build housing that can address the current homelessness crisis and prepare for future climate shocks. Commercial contractors are currently struggling to find skilled workers, and the construction industry could face a shortage of 2 million workers by 2025. Pallet’s founders, Amy King and Brady King, having led two prior housing and workforce development social enterprises, Square Peg and Weld Seattle, see an opportunity to address this shortage by hiring and investing in hardworking individuals who face barriers to employment. Pallet focuses on recruiting people who are traditionally shut out of employment opportunities but who demonstrate a commitment to the organization’s mission and a desire to build a manufacturing career. The majority of its employees have experience with homelessness, substance use disorder, and/or the criminal justice system. The company provides on-the-job training, mentorship, and ongoing career advancement opportunities, along with connections to outside support services.
“Pallet is transforming the AEC and Manufacturing industries by fostering the introduction and development of a non-traditional workforce. A stronger and more diverse workforce is needed to both revitalize our economy and contribute to the overall housing supply – two things we are heavily focused on. With this goal in mind, we recruit, train and support individuals impacted by the criminal justice system, addiction, and homelessness into manufacturing and construction roles and invest in their ability to be productive and contributing members of this workforce as well as their home communities.”—Amy King, CEO of Pallet
The company aspires to offer quality employment to hundreds of people by setting up new manufacturing facilities in disinvested areas across the U.S. and creating jobs tied to constructing and maintaining the village communities. Through these efforts, Pallet seeks to lead an important industry transition away from requiring four-year degrees or extensive job experience towards a workforce development system in which people with overlooked potential and drive can contribute their knowledge and passion on the job, regardless of their backgrounds and the challenges they’ve had to overcome in the past.
Collaborating with the Autodesk Foundation to scale
As a social purpose corporation sitting squarely at the intersection of shelter innovation, manufacturing, and workforce impact, we are eager to align our resources, industry expertise, and networks to support Pallet’s ambitions to scale. By facilitating software donations of AutoCAD, Revit, Inventor, and more through Autodesk’s Technology Impact Program and training services, we can support Pallet’s growing team to use Autodesk software more effectively and upskilling workers while they do it.
As Autodesk seeks to lead major shifts in the way that our core industries create sustainable products and position workers as essential creators of value rather than cost centers, Pallet is leading by example. We hope to see Pallet’s inclusive employment model adopted by others, thereby helping to address the current labor shortage, and playing a vital role in strengthening the affordable housing ecosystem long-term.