For over a decade, architecture students in a small town in West Alabama have been working to solve a seemingly impossible problem. How do you build a home that someone living below the poverty line can afford, but that anyone would want to live in, while still being able to pay the wages of the construction team that builds it?
After years of building prototypes, the team has now finished their first successful project, a two-one bedroom house made from material that cost just $14,000. For years the students have tweaked and optimized both the function and price. The design is so revolutionary that it’s changing the entire housing system—from mortgages to zoning laws.
Rural Studio’s $20K House has such innovative design that it’s changing the entire housing system.
The houses are built more like airplanes than houses, which allows the team to have them far exceed structural requirements.
They’re using material much more efficiently. The foundation of the house, for example, uses cantilevers, seesaw-like joists that help save wood and concrete and actually make the house stronger than a typical foundation would. There’s a thousand and one things in the houses that are like that. Things you will never notice, but the house is filled with them.
The only issue now is getting these houses available to the public.
The design techniques aren’t in the usual guides that code officials consult and local code officials don’t understand it yet. They look at the documents, and the house is immediately denied a permit simply because they don’t understand it. So in order to bring the house to everyone who wants to build it, the team realized they would have to create a detailed guide that explained everything from how to build each piece—with Ikea-like instructions—to how to educate local officials.
The most daunting problems aren’t brick and mortar problems alone, they’re these network and system problems.
Besides construction problems there are also other issues at play that have to do with how the system works. For example: a $100,000 mortgage costs a bank about $2,300. But a mortgage for a $20,000 house also costs $2,300, so there’s a lack of scalability. But the bank they are working with came up with a solution: a new mortgage product made for the poorest people to afford.
The team is trying to address all issues sooner, rather than later because so many people need these houses now!
The company is impatient to share their plans with the world. “We’re behind schedule, quite honestly. So many people need it now.” Says Rusty Smith, associate director of Rural Studio.
Such a wonderful initiative! Here’s hoping that many, many people can enjoy these lovely, low income houses.
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